Its safe to say, I spent more time in Garden City this year than any other year. I imagine most of us did. Here’s a look back at 2020 through the township agendas.
At the dawn of 2020 the school board had already re-organized itself after the last general election. Larry Kutys, Michele Downie, Jennifer Lentz and Jerry Ballas are now finishing their first year as elected officials. Max Cooper and Scott Spangler joined the township board. The big news though was the county council, which switched entirely to Democrats for the first time ever. None of them had any idea what was ahead, 2020 had other plans.
The first township agenda of 2020 addresses two big projects – the demolition of Summit School and the Moore Rd. sidewalk project. Despite the pandemic, the Moore Rd. project went ahead and has greatly improved walkability around Nether Providence Elementary. Summit School is also gone now, leaving a park ready for something new.
New lighting was proposed at Urban Field, since installed, making games at night possible. The commissioners started a discussion that would lead to a resolution to move toward zero carbon emissions. The township started a new contract for township-wide recycling. Improvements were planned for Furness Park, which I haven’t had a chance to see yet. The once in a decade census is a repeating feature of the manager’s report. The re-assessment started rolling out over the course of 2020 with initial assessments in the spring, appeals and then final assessments appearing later in the year. Overall, it appears that Garden City residents came down with a slightly higher tax burden than the wealthier areas of the township.
February saw the last regular meetings of the board, which has not met in person since then. The long-discussed plan for 310 Wallingford was passed, and by the end of the year the forested lot adjacent to Sapovitts had been cleared and is mostly mud today. In another year, there should be a new development of houses there. The last regular events at schools were being held. NPE’s STEM night 2020 was one of the last I attended before it all ended.
Covid makes its first appearance at the March 12 agenda. Schools across the region rapidly shut down as DelCo was an early hotspot. As the schools go online, they start providing food to those in need after pressure from the township to act further. In the March meetings planning was still under way for future events like the summer rec program for children at NPE, most of which would soon be cancelled. By April cancellations start to appear on the agenda. The township staff was hit fairly hard at the beginning and staffing shortages led to reduced operations for a while. The big construction projects on Moore Rd. and Summit School were paused for several weeks in March and April before resuming in May.
Over the summer, the township saw the departure of two long-time parts of township government. Gary Cummings retired after decades as the township manager – his name is on the township building plaque installed in the 1980s. His assistant, Dave Grady stepped in to his place seamlessly. Matt Sullivan, the only elected commissioner for the seventh ward since its creation, moved to Rose Valley before being appointed to the school board late in the year. Scott Spangler and Damon Orsetti also moved on from the township and school board respectively. Stephanie King took up as the 5th Ward commissioner and Marty Malloy replaced Matt Sullivan in the 7th (Damon Orsetti was replaced by Matt Sullivan).
At the start of the summer the township rec program was officially cancelled as the extent of the pandemic was becoming clear. On June 2nd the long delayed primary is finally held – though many vote by mail for the first time. The big races are moot by this point. In Nether Providence the only race that proves to be meaningful is the victory of John Kane as Democratic candidate for state senate, he’ll go on to flip one of the few state senate seats to change party this year.
Tree removal services make the agenda over the summer. A series of strong storms throughout the year wreck havoc on both trees and the township’s drainage and sewer systems. As a result of protests elsewhere over the summers, the commissioners act quickly to strip notorious racist Woodrow Wilson’s name from a park in the historically black neighborhood of South Media. They would go on to name it after local community organizer Martha Burton later in the year. Chief Splain also highlights throughout the year the progress the police department has already made toward higher standards (eight can’t wait) and accreditation.
With the help of a new financial assistant the township’s budget season went smoother than ever. The overall tax increases were fairly modest, although the re-assessment makes it worse for Garden City. Despite a number of unpredicted expenses this year due to covid and the storm and staffing costs rising faster than revenue, the budget remained largely unchanged for next year. The long-delayed Rose Valley Rd. sidewalk project is set to start in 2021 as is the Possum Hollow sidewalk which will connect “downtown” Wallingford to the Wallingford train station. Toward the end of the year, the township begun planning to install equipment to allow streaming of board meetings even after returning to live. Being able to review board meetings on Youtube or watch when convenient has been incredibly helpful this year.
The board spent much of this year trying to nail down formal policies on subjects they’ve just winged in the past. Renaming parks, using private funds for road work, accounting policies and probably more have all been discussed to formalize more of the township’s undertakings and provide guidance to future boards.
There’s something of a settled routine to the end of the year. While Covid upended much of the first half, the second half – budget season, road projects for 2021, leaf collection, the fire department Santa runs, and so on hew more closely to the routine for the township. The much discussed general election in November turned out to be a pretty dull affair at the polls as people continued to vote heavily by mail (thank you!). The year closes with one last storm, which the public works department makes short work of despite hazardous icy conditions. As the year closes, the first vaccinations have been done at Crozier, and ER doctor and new commissioner Max Cooper will likely be among the first.