Springfield commissioners review police survey, human rights committee ordinance

by Betsy Wallace
Posted 11/18/20

The Springfield Township Commissioners presented the 2021 preliminary budget, reviewed a draft survey of township residents regarding satisfaction with the Police Department, discussed how to rewrite …

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Springfield commissioners review police survey, human rights committee ordinance

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The Springfield Township Commissioners presented the 2021 preliminary budget, reviewed a draft survey of township residents regarding satisfaction with the Police Department, discussed how to rewrite its Human Rights Committee ordinance to include racial discrimination, and reviewed a proposed agreement between the Township and the Cheltenham Branch of the NAACP at its Workshop and Business meetings this month.

At the Business meeting, they passed two resolutions. The first granted approval of the three-lot residential land development plan at 225 Northwestern Ave. The second accepted the Deed of Dedication from the Sandy Run Country Club for a right of way along Walnut Avenue (which will become a public walking path).

The commissioners appointed Sara Hughes to the Parks & Recreation Advisory Committee, accepted Township Engineer, Mark Eisold’s resignation and appointed Timothy Woodrow of Woodrow & Associates, Inc., as interim Township Engineer. The Commissioners voted four to 1 (Commissioner Graham was not present) to have McMahon Associates conduct a speed limit evaluation on Papermill Road between Church and Golf roads.

Here are the meeting highlights:

2021 Proposed Budget Statement for Springfield Township

Township residents will experience a moderate increase in the 2021 real estate tax to 4.516 mills, which is about a 1.7% increase and a 3.9% increase in each household’s 2021 discounted refuse fee (from $223.24 to $231.86). The earned income tax rate is 1%. The entire proposed operating budget for 2021 is $17,223,096.

Commissioner Harbison explained that the township had to increase the real estate tax this year (the 2020 real estate tax remained the same as in 2019) because of increases in employment wages and benefits, contributions to the volunteer fire companies and because of a decrease in interest and rental incomes this year, although the costs are offset somewhat by a reduction in capital project expenses, debt service payments and health insurance premiums.

The township has been planning for an increase in recycling costs due in part to China’s 2018-2019 ban on importing certain types of recyclable materials. The cost for waste disposal fees increased by $1.19 per ton, and the township expects that the average monthly cost of processing and marketing single stream recyclables will increase by over $40 per ton in 2021. In response, the township reduced its operating and capital costs for 2021 so that it could absorb some of the increase in recycling costs, leaving households with a moderate increase in their fee. The township also expects about $25,000 in revenues from the local services tax in 2021.

The Commissioners will conduct a budget hearing and budget adoption at its public Business Meeting on December 9 and will accept residents’ comments and questions at its December Workshop and Business meetings. The proposed Budget Statement is posted on the Springfield Township website.

Springfield Township Community Survey re: Police Relations

Erin Cassar and He Lun Chung, both of whom are township residents and have experience in research, surveys and data collection, volunteered months ago to develop and evaluate the results of a township resident survey on police relations.

At the Workshop meeting, Cassar provided the commissioners with a draft survey. Cassar emphasized that the goal of the survey is to achieve a better understanding of the community’s concerns about police relations, how prevalent those concerns are, and to provide a common ground for meaningful discussion on improving relations. They want to continue to communicate with key stakeholders, the Multi-Cultural Parents Association, the Township Commissioners, and the Police Department. Cassar and Chung have had two hour-long meetings with Chief Pitkow, who has been open and supportive of the project. They are now sharing the draft with the commissioners and plan to do the same with the Multi-Cultural Parents Association soon.

Cassar assured the Commissioners that the survey’s raw data would remain confidential. Cassar and Chung will produce a report for the township, but they will not provide recommendations. Cassar said that the survey must be an independent survey for residents to trust it and strongly advised that the final survey not be posted on the police web page. She emphasized that they want to take time “and do it right” to achieve significant stakeholder buy-in for the survey. A final draft survey may take another month.

Commissioner Cobb was concerned that the survey could become a survey of police in general based on people’s experiences at the hands of different police departments. Township solicitor James Garrity said that conducting a survey like this is a very big deal, adding that “people will remember this for years.”

Commissioners Lee and Graham said that greater transparency is what they are aiming for through the survey and that they want the Township to face any issues revealed by the survey in a productive way. Township resident, Kelly King, reminded the Commissioners that the consensus at the virtual Town Halls on community policing in Springfield Township was that there was a disconnect between the Police perceptions of how they are doing and the perceptions of certain communities within the township.

Erin Cassar has a Ph.D in Urban Education and is a Senior Research Associate with the Philadelphia School District. He Lun Chung has a Ph.D. in Psychology and is a Professor at the College of New Jersey.

Township’s Human Rights Committee Ordinance

At the workshop meeting, township solicitor Garrity provided a review of the current ordinance and suggested revisions based on the Pennsylvania Human Rights Act, which is broader in scope. He suggested that racial profiling be added in the definitions section and noted that the state act allows the PA Human Rights Commission to take complaints and to investigate discrimination without a complaint.

The township’s Human Rights Committee would still be focused on mediation of complaints rather than adjudication. Commissioners Graham and Lee stated that the township’s Human Rights Committee must be independent and that the size of the Committee itself should be larger. They suggested that the PA Human Rights Commission should be brought into the conversation and offered to arrange a meeting with the Human Rights Commission Executive Director, Garrity and commissioners Graham and Lee as a next step.

Township residents can request an audio recording of the Workshop Meeting by contacting Michael Taylor, Township Manager, by email: mtaylor@springfieldmontco.org. Residents may view the Recorded Business meetings and check all Public Meeting Agendas and Minutes here: https://www.springfieldmontco.org/government/meeting-agendas-minutes/.

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