Pottstown, Pennsylvania

Pottstown is a compact town of 22,000 along the Schuylkill River in southeastern Pennsylvania, about 35 miles northwest of Philadelphia. It is lovely and historic, with tree-lined streets and a distinctive downtown

Although the town is not as financially healthy as it once was, it has the potential to become one of the most livable communities in Pennsylvania. Pottstown Citizens seeks ways we can best manage our resources for the common good.

The following essays have recently appeared as paid advertisements in the Pottstown Mercury:

Magnificent church buildings at risk

As the middle class moved out of Pottstown for the suburbs, and as membership in traditional churches has declined everywhere, dwindling congregations have found it increasingly difficult to maintain Pottstown's magnificent church buildings.
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Factory/warehouses to housing

Pottstown has a dozen multistory factories and warehouses that are no longer viable for their original purpose and have been converted into other uses, mostly offices and apartments.
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Who is Dwight City Group?

In a preliminary presentation to Pottstown Council last June, Dwight CEO Judah Angster said the company specializes in revitalizing existing buildings, including old warehouses. 

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43,602 parking spaces

In recent decades, Pottstown’s fixation on parking has led to the creation of far more parking spaces than we’ll ever need. 

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Parking variance sought

Pottstown’s zoning ordinance requires two parking spaces for each apartment unit. Dwight City Group, the Manhattan-based developer proposing the residential conversion of a landmark factory/warehouse complex, needs a variance to proceed.
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Warehouse lofts project proposed

A New York developer has proposed the conversion of a historic warehouse/factory complex on North Hanover Street, next to the Pottstown Cemetery, into 85 one and two bedroom market rate apartments.

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Preserving Pennsylvania farmland

Farmland preservation has been much in the news, with Berks and Montgomery counties allocating more than $1 million and Chester County more than $2 million to preserve farmland.

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Tax payments should be public

Last week, a former IRS contractor was sentenced to five years in prison for stealing the tax returns of Donald Trump and other wealthy people and sharing them with the media.
It was a crime, but why?

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Pottstown’s 2024 budget in brief

Pottstown Council last month adopted a 2024 budget that calls for a 2.96 percent tax increase. Quarterly trash collection fees, which are separate from the real estate tax, are going up 10 percent. Together, the borough and the school district are set to spend more than $132 million this year.

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Enterprising government saves money

On Tuesday, we published a line item summary of Pottstown Borough’s projected spending in 2024. More than 20 percent of the budget is funded not by local taxpayers, but by state and federal grants.

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$25 million investment in Pottstown

Last week, we discussed a $2.5 million proposal by Rockwell Development Group to rehabilitate two Lastick Furniture Store buildings at High and Charlotte streets into retail and market rate apartments. No entity has a better record of development in Pottstown, which currently totals more than $25 million invested.

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Paying too much for your whistle

January marks the 318th birthday of Pennsylvania’s greatest citizen, Benjamin Franklin. Arguably the 18th century’s most brilliant scientist, diplomat, and philosopher, Franklin has never been more relevant than today.
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High Street restoration proposed

A $2.5 million restoration of the two former Lastick’s Furniture Store buildings at High and Charlotte streets has been proposed by Rockwell Development Group, the same firm that restored the 19th century Meyerhoff Shirt Factory into market rate apartments in 2021.
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Project will enhance downtown

The proposed $2.5 million conversion of two Lastick Furniture Store buildings at High and Charlotte streets into mixed-use buildings — retail, market rate apartments, and subgrade parking — will significantly enhance the appearance and livability of downtown Pottstown.
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Wyomissing epitome of good design

About the same time Milton Hershey was building his ideal community near Harrisburg,  two German- American businessmen, Henry Janssen and Ferdinand Thun, were establishing their own “model community” just outside Reading, called Wyomissing, to accommodate their fast-growing  industrial enterprises.

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Adaptive reuse key to Pottstown’s future

In recent columns, we discussed Pennsylvania’s two “model communities,” Hershey and Wyomissing, which were built on virgin land by idealists to be clean, safe, functional, and beautiful. Pottstown’s history has been quite different.
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Build a city from scratch?

San Francisco Bay Area residents are aflutter over a proposal by several Silicon Valley moguls to build a new city, about 50 percent larger in size than Pittsburgh, in rural Solano County, California, northeast of the bay area.
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Pennsylvania’s best town builder

More than 75 years after his death, it’s still hard to tell whether Milton Hershey built a town to support his chocolate factory, or a chocolate factory to support his town.

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Not ready to go at 75

 This month marks two personal milestones. I turned 75 last week, and I also published my thousandth Mercury “advertorial.”

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Letters help connect us to the past

Christmas is a time of family and reflection. I spent a nostalgic holiday organizing scores of family letters, going back to the 1930s, scanning them and sharing them digitally with my brother and sister.

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Real towns have holiday feel

It was only November, and the Pennsylvania Lottery already started airing the same Christmas commercial it has used for 31 years.
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What was best about ‘A Wonderful Life’

Pottstown could use a few graduates like George Bailey — committed to living and working in our town for the long haul.

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Burden of homeless falls on Pottstown

Homelessness affects few residents in Montgomery County — just 329 people were homeless in a county of 860,000 residents, according to a county survey — but it’s a huge problem in Pottstown and Norristown, where homeless people congregate.

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Countywide ills deluge Pottstown

Pottstown has a bus service for those without cars. It has churches which shelter the homeless at night. It has drug rehabilitation facilities, free food offered by numerous groups, medical outreach services provided by the hospital, and free counseling. Non-profit organizations pay no real estate taxes.

These generous social services, together with older, high density housing and a walkable infrastructure, make Pottstown a magnet for the poor and troubled.

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Is the internet changing our brains?

Almost everyone uses the internet continually throughout the day.
Are there downsides to this? Of course, and one of them has been articulated by writer Nicolas Carr in The Atlantic, as follows:
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Many people won’t get past the headline

On Tuesday, we discussed how the internet has rewired our brains to dramatically reduce our attention span.
When it comes to newspaper and magazine articles online, many people read just a few paragraphs and then it’s off to something else.
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Holiday House Tour this Sunday

This year’s Historic Pottstown Holiday House Tour, scheduled for 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday, will feature homes around the “Chicken Hill” section of town featured in James McBride’s new novel, “The Heaven and Earth Grocery Store.”

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Middle school 90 years old

Pottstown Middle School, which will be featured on Sunday’s Historic Pottstown Holiday House Tour, was originally built as a junior high school in 1933.

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Simplify, simplify

Most of us spend a significant portion of our days sitting in cars going from place to place. At work and at home, we spend much of our time looking at television screens, smart phones, and computer monitors.
Rational people must wonder if all this commotion is really progress.

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Thanksgiving then and now

It’s easy to think Pottstown is worse off now than for previous generations, but  this ignores the enormous improvements in daily life we quickly take for granted.

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Pottstown success story

D.J. Pallets is setting up a wooden pallet manufacturing and reconditioning  business in the former Pottstown Plating Works at South Washington Street and Industrial Highway. The works complex was vacant for nearly 15 years, contaminated and decaying, until Pottstown entrepreneur John Jones invested millions of dollars to clean up the property and transform it into a modern facility.

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Demolition by neglect

Perhaps the most visible blighted building in Pottstown is 542 High Street, on the same block at the Pottstown Regional Public Library. As buildings deteriorate, they become prey to vandalism and even arson. They become far more expensive to rehabilitate. They often end up being demolished.

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Democracy is more than voting

Today is Election Day, and if this day is anything like the most recent general election for local government offices, in November 2021, about 2,800 Pottstown residents will cast a vote. That’s out of  some 14,000 registered voters.

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School mergers? Not necessary.

School district consolidation?
Every few years, a politician will propose legislation to enlarge existing school districts through mergers.

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Trees Inc. 2023 report

For 40 years, Trees Inc., a non -profit incorporated in 1983, has done almost all the tree planting and maintenance in Pottstown.
More than two-thirds of Pottstown’s current street trees were planted by Trees Inc.

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Flexible sidewalks work best

At his 2024 budget presentation to Pottstown Council at its October meeting, Borough Manager Justin Keller suggested establishing a $100,000 grant fund to help Pottstown homeowners repair sidewalks damaged by tree roots.

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Streets as greenways

Every trip — going to work, shopping at the grocery store, visiting friends, even walking the dog — involves using one or more streets. Trees can help make these daily activities park-like — green, pleasant, and tranquil.

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Pottstown streets with a “green roof”


Pottstown streets before and after trees

Street trees planted in the 1980s  have transformed the appearance of many Pottstown streets.

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Street trees save energy

Studies show the most cost effective way to alleviate climate change in urban areas like Pottstown is planting lots of shade trees.

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Trees Inc. marks 40th anniversary

Today marks the 40th anniversary of the incorporation of Trees Inc., the Pottstown non-profit that has planted 2,816 new and replacement street trees in Pottstown and trimmed thousands more (many more than once).

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Pottstown in 1983: bare and bleak

It’s easy to forget just how stark and bare Pottstown’s streets looked prior to the incorporation of Trees Inc. in October 1983.

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Montana students protect the environment

In March 2020, a group of 16 Montana young people, aged 5 to 22, sued their state for its failure to consider climate change when approving fossil fuel projects.

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Young people concerned about fossil fuels

 Young people are far more open to phasing out fossil fuels than their elders, because they are the ones who will face the brunt of a warming planet.

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Edgewood walking tours set

Just a handful of tickets remain for a guided tour of the Edgewood Historic Cemetery on High Street Saturday afternoon, Oct. 7.

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Cemeteries as passive parks

In the 19th century, especially, cemeteries were viewed as parks and arboretums — a quiet place for walks or even picnics.

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Fix the outside as well as the inside

Developers, especially rehabbers, have greatly improved the quality of life in Pottstown. Many magnificent homes have been restored, and former factories repurposed, to become great places to live.

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20 years, $44 million in grants


Pottstown government relies heavily on grant funding for many of its operations.

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Trash collection expands

Pottstown residents, the homeless, and other visitors to town generate an enormous amount of trash, especially downtown.

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Street paving: 5 miles done, 25 to go

On Tuesday, we discussed how the Pottstown community is increasing its efforts to clean up Pottstown’s ubiquitous trash. Another significant problem is deteriorated streets.

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Retail moves to your door (1)

Changing technology has led to transformations in where we live, work, and shop. One of the most recent changes is retail commerce.

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Retail moves to your door (2)

Internet commerce is great. There’s no limit to the number of items you can buy online and have it delivered to your door.  Of course, now we’re more isolated than ever.

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Pottstown needs investors like Jones

Beyond the plating works, Jones has invested millions of dollars to rehabilitate seven other commercial properties. They generate almost $200,000 annually in real estate taxes. 

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Home rehabbers enhance Pottstown

Pottstown benefits from entrepreneurs who buy tired old houses and turn them into gleaming showplaces.

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Can we make this happen?

The proposed pallet  manufacturing  project will have no adverse impact on Pottstown residents. We need the jobs it will create.

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Pottstown zoning needs flexibility

I can speak with some authority on the zoning issue, because I wrote Pottstown’s current zoning and subdivision ordinance with borough solicitor Chuck Garner in 2003. Right from the get-go, we knew a lot of variances would be needed to make it work.

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Rich man’s epiphany

Last week, we pointed out that Pottstown school taxes are the seventh highest of 500 school districts in Pennsylvania.
What’s our return on investment? We don’t know.

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Rich man’s epiphany (p 2)

On Tuesday we published excerpts from a multi-millionaire’s essay in The Atlantic magazine regarding public schools and children in poverty.
He made (to him) the startling discovery that schools can’t solve inequality in America.

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Schools can’t do it all

Consider the Farrell Area School District, which serves a small steelmaking town, Farrell, and Wheatland Borough, in northwest Pennsylvania along the Ohio border. For decades, Farrell has been one of the state’s most economically depressed communities.

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How to uplift Pottstown

What is the Pottstown School District? Some people think the school district is its students and staff. But they are all temporary. People come and go. What does have staying power is geography.

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Vouchers will degrade public schools

The voucher plan would, in effect, cherry pick the best students out of low performing schools, leaving the rest of the students worse off than ever.

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Excess spending doesn’t help

In Pennsylvania, there is no evidence than any school district has pulled substantial numbers of students out of poverty.

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Crime levels off after years of decline

Despite a slight uptick last year, crime in Pottstown continues to be lower than it’s been in recent decades.

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Part 2 crimes lowest in decades

Less dangerous crimes, known as Part 2 crimes, fell to their lowest level in at least 30 years.

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PAED starts downtown street cleaning

For years, the greatest stain on Pottstown’s daily quality of life downtown has been the unending stream of trash tossed on our streets and sidewalks. 

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PAED’s key role in Pottstown

In recent weeks, we’ve recounted the history of Pottstown Area Economic Development Inc. (PAED) since its founding in 1965.

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LERTA helps fund two projects

In 2016, after two years of meetings and discussions, Pottstown Council and the Pottstown School Board agreed on the borough’s first LERTA ordinance.

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Land Bank gains traction

It took five years of organizing, but the Pottstown Land Bank is finally gaining traction.

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Pallet factory proposed for plating site

Until recently, the former Pottstown Plating Works, at South Washington Street and the Industrial Highway, comprised the most blighted and contaminated buildings in Pottstown.

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KEEP land offers new opportunities

Nearly 50 years ago, in 1976, a panel from the Urban Land Institute identified about 100 acres of mostly vacant land along the Schuylkill River in Pottstown west of Route 100 that provided excellent opportunities for development.

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Five acres of blight — gone

For years, the decaying relics of two Pottstown industries — Pottstown Nipple Works and Pottstown Plating Works — constituted five acres of blight between Laurel Street and the Industrial Highway.

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Pottstown Plating still a work in progress

Until recently, the former Pottstown  Plating Works, at South Washington Street and the Industrial Highway, comprised the most blighted and contaminated buildings in Pottstown.

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PAED reorganizes with its own director

In 2010, as recommended by  the ULI, a memo of   understanding was drawn up between Pottstown Council, the Pottstown School Board, and the Montgomery County Redevelopment Authority to designate PAED as the “single authoritative entity” to “facilitate, manage, and implement” Pottstown’s economic development initiatives.

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Anchor bank building restored

TOP THREE FLOORS of the original First Federal Savings and Loan  building at High and Hanover streets were vacant for decades because of asbestos contamination.
With the assistance of PAED, April Barkasi, CEO of Cedarville Engineering Group, bought the building with partners and remediated it with low interest loans from Montgomery County.

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PAED saves historic bank building

Ever since its construction in 1888, the Security Trust bank building at High and Hanover streets has been the anchor of downtown Pottstown.

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PAED closes bars, attracts playhouse

PAED bought the former Newberry 5&10 building in 2005 and held it until the TriCounty Performing Arts Center could raise the money to buy the building at cost from PAED.

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PAED brings ULI to Pottstown

Using proceeds from the sale of lots at the Airport Business Campus, PAED funded a study by the Urban Land Institute in 1989 to recommend economic development strategies.

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ULI plan leads to new town center

The most significant improvement to downtown Pottstown in the last 50 years was the construction of a new Borough Hall and town park.

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Employer, employee listings for 2022

Each year for the last seven years, we’ve published a list of Pottstown’s top 25 employers.

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PAED’s role grows in Pottstown

The closures of Bethlehem Steel and Firestone cost the borough more than 3,000 good-paying jobs, and Pottstown began the difficult  transition from a manufacturing powerhouse into an agglomeration of small, widely diverse industries.

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Foundation boosts college-bound

Twelve of the students who will graduate from Pottstown High School next week have a head start on college, paid in part or in full by the Foundation for Pottstown Education.

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Let’s cut the real estate tax

With the seventh highest tax effort in Pennsylvania, and a whopping $25 million fund balance, the district can and should start cutting the real estate tax.

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Before “fair funding” — “costing-out”

Long before “fair funding,” the Pennsylvania legislature had already adopted a formula based on the same factors, called “costing-out.”

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Unfair funding

While the Pottstown School District is in excellent shape, the borough is not. It does not receive generous state subsidies, even though it has the same demographics as the school district.

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Education spending perspective

As measured on a global scale, a national scale, or a state scale, Pottstown is spending more per pupil than the vast majority of public schools anywhere.

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Pottstown school spending skyrockets

The Pottstown School Board last month passed a preliminary 2023-2024 budget that raises spending 16 percent over the current school year.
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Our wealth in perspective

If money and material goods are the criteria for the  good life, we’re on top of the world.

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Is there ever enough?

“In America I have seen the freest and best educated of men in circumstances the happiest to be found in the world; yet it seemed to me that a cloud habitually hung on their brow, and they seemed serious and almost sad in their pleasures,” because they “never stop thinking of the good things they have not got.”

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Tax subsidies help wealthy homeowners

There are lots of ways the government subsidizes the wealthy. The home mortgage deduction not only helps the rich, but it also helps isolate the poor in older communities.
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Should tax payments be public?

Government at all levels requires money to operate, and every citizen is expected to pay his fair share. Income taxes are a major revenue source for both states and the federal government, so why shouldn’t individual payments be made public?

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Rich not who we think they are

We now know who is rich in America. And it’s not who you might have guessed.

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Money and happiness

Does money actually make people happy?

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It’s not going to stay this way

There are nearly 8 billion people on the planet, and they all want the same high quality lifestyles people in the developed world enjoy.

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America’s income inequality

The distribution of wealth in America is even more unequal than the worldwide distribution of wealth.  The richest 20 percent of Americans own 85 percent of the nation’s wealth. 

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Demographics changing the world

Birth rates are creating a very different world from the one we’ve experienced in recent generations.

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Immigration brings change

Last week, the Census Bureau reported the number of immigrants nearly tripled in the nation’s 20 most populous counties from 2021 to 2022, as immigration returned to pre-pandemic levels

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Problems of the affluent and the poor

Homelessness has been much in the news. Pottstown’s North End residents have been complaining to Borough Council about a temporary homeless shelter for 30 persons in the basement of St. Paul’s United Church of Christ.

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LED lights a small, easy step forward

New state grants totaling more than $1 million were announced this month to pay for replacing all the borough’s street lights with LED bulbs.

This kind of sustainability initiative was easy because it didn’t cost any local dollars and didn’t ask people to accept change.

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Homelessness touches North End

Pottstown has numerous churches with excess capacity because their congregations have dwindled as parishioners of means moved to the suburbs in recent decades.  Many of these churches have become havens for the poor to receive food, clothing, and other necessities.

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Open space, covert decision- making

An engineering firm hired by Upper Pottsgrove Township makes a lucid argument for building a $5.5 million municipal complex on the former Smola farm at Evans and Moyer roads.

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Pottstown housing prices higher than ever

Although Pottstown has major problems with vacant storefronts, trash-strewn streets, and homelessness, housing prices are higher than ever.

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Wide variety of housing in Pottstown

On Tuesday, we noted that Pottstown housing prices have increased dramatically — more than 70 percent over the last five years.

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Excessive compensation stains Tower Health

Quoting a lower court decision, Commonwealth Court stated “[the CEO] and the Board of Tower Health were no more tha[n] corporate health care raiders . ... The goal as evident from the financial documentation offered at trial was simple and direct—drain the juice out of the hospitals until there was nothing left but a dried-out husk and then leave, close the doors, or sell what was left.”

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Challenging tax exemptions

The recent Tower Health ruling shows the court’s willingness to rethink which organizations are truly non-profit and which ones have been categorized more by past practices than logic.

In an age of increasing income inequality, why is a poor town expected to subsidize a school with a $188 million endowment and lavish facilities that primarily serves the national and international moneyed class?

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Pottstown housing now integrated

Pottstown is one of the most integrated municipalities in Pennsylvania. Pottstown has 20 census blocks, as shown in the map above. The racial demographics of each census block are shown in the chart. It’s clear Pottstown is integrated in all its neighborhoods.

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Pottstown area highly segregated

On Tuesday, we published a chart of all 20 census blocks in Pottstown demonstrating that Pottstown is integrated at a neighborhood level. But the Pottstown area, encompassing the borough and its surrounding municipalities, is highly segregated.

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Elementary schools desegregate in 1980

In 1978, The Mercury published a 16- page special edition suggesting the district could desegregate its elementary schools and reduce excess classroom capacity by closing Jefferson School and redistricting the remaining schools.

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Demographics have dramatically changed

By far the greatest change in the Pottstown School District in the last 50 years has been a dramatic increase in the district’s minority enrollment and in student poverty.

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Racial segregation redux, 1963

Nine years after publishing a weeklong series of articles in 1954 about racial discrimination in Pottstown, The Pottstown Mercury ran an even longer series of articles in 1963 about what progress had been made.

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Housing strictly segregated in 1963

“Realtors in Pottstown do not talk about segregation and discrimination — except to deny it. But it does exist — sharply, and clearly defined."

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Committtee on Human Relations formed

In 1954, following a week-long series of articles in The Pottstown Mercury about racial discrimination in Pottstown, a group of concerned citizens met at a local restaurant to form a Committee on Human Relations.

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Black pioneers

Although de facto racial inequity was the rule in 1950s Pottstown, there were some notable exceptions. Chief among these was the Corum family.

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Mercury confronts segregation in 1954 (2)

BLACK COMMERCIAL graduates of Pottstown High School in the early 1950s. None were sent out for job interviews, but white girls were placed.

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Mercury confronts segregation in 1954 (3)

In 1954, ending a week-long series of articles about racial discrimination in Pottstown, The Pottstown Mercury concluded with plea to bring about racial equity in Pottstown.

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1954 court ruling leads to Mercury series

One month after the Brown vs. Board of Education decision, The Pottstown Mercury published a week-long series of articles about racial segregation in Pottstown.

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Mercury confronts segregation in 1954 (1)

Mercury editor Shandy Hill championed racial equality, and he wasn’t afraid of being unpopular. The Mercury series highlighted some uncomfortable truths.

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Broadening school district's mission

The Pottstown Public Library would be much more appropriate for the school district to oversee and financially support than the borough.

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The library: education for all

Books, videos, internet resources — everything’s available at the public library. You can go on-line from home and browse the entire collection — not just Pottstown’s, but almost everywhere in Pennsylvania

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Preserving our natural capital

Natural capital is everything nature provides us for free. It is what our economy is built upon.

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Where your local taxes go

Together, Pottstown Borough and the Pottstown School District are set to spend more than $118 million this year.

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Thoughts for 2023

Strange is our situation here upon earth. Each of us comes for a short visit, not knowing why, yet sometimes seeming to divine a purpose.

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New epoch in world history

By the 1950s, the world’s humans grew so numerous, and started making so much impact on the planet, that the geologists believe a new epoch is warranted: the Anthropocene.

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