Farewell to a great curb that never hurt anybody

In June my local government in Newtown, PA, sent me an $8000 estimate for the replacement of perhaps 100 foot of curb, in the middle of the pandemic and with me living 3 hours away working multiple jobs to pay my bills and get ahead.

The house has been there since 1964, and my father and I put in the curb ourselves in the 1970s when I was a child. I have distinct memories of hauling sand using my wagon from the back yard to the front. There’s never been an issue with water retention or ice or anything. The street itself has been repaved multiple times over the decades with the existing curb.

I appealed and the Newtown Borough Council respectfully listened. My position is that the curb is not needed. It has existed in its present form for decades and I do not want it replaced. They say that it is required for the repaving of the road, but really could not explain why the previous several road repavings over the years (I can distinctly remember two) went just fine with the existing curb. It is apparently just part of the master plan — which also may include a monorail at taxpayer expense* — and there is just no way to stop or amend the bureacratic ‘progress.’

It should be stated that there is no sidewalk there and my property is actually partly in the township, not in a commercial area that gets foot or car traffic (although a massive building project nearby is seeing lots of construction workers parking on the street these last few months).

I virtually attended a borough council meeting after sending an email requesting that the unneeded, unwanted  construction that they were billing to a local resident be reconsidered. The council members were all good, courteous people but they were clearly completely out of touch with how a sudden $8000+ bill send to a resident might be local government overreach and cause additional stress during a stressful time.

Again, they were nice to me and I appreciate that, but when a local government can undertake projects such as this and then bill a homeowner who does not want that project done, I have to protest. Will they put in a new street light next, and charge me $20,000 for something I do not want that is not needed. Does their master plan include 100 foot of sidewalk next year, which terminates at the township line (which actually dissects my property). Will they then start fining me if snow is not removed from said sidewalk on their schedule? This is not the main business street, State Street, it is literally the last house in town that is partly in the adjoining township.

My family has lived in or owned that house since 1964, and I took on a second mortgage to purchase the family house from my brothers when my mother passed. To my knowledge this is the first time the local government has done anything like this in the 50+ years of the house’s existence. To my knowledge there has never been any interaction before with the local government, which is really the way it should be. You leave me alone and I will pay my taxes on time and maintain the property in a reasonable manner. If I had a 300 ft tall oak tree that threatened life and property, bug me about that. Not a silly, unneeded bit of curb.

I just mailed a check for $5768.04 for local property taxes, and I just paid around $1700 in local residency taxes in April or May. Tiny Newtown Borough has become more expensive than Montgomery County, MD, where I have my primary residence. Montgomery County Maryland is a high tax near-in suburb of Washington, DC, that makes middle class people like myself suffer and work multiple jobs so they can expand ‘services,’ every year. Is this where Newtown is heading? Perhaps it is aleady there?

It also strikes me that the first thing Borough Council did when I balked was offer a $4000+ stone/slate curb option, which was always available with a glance at the plan. They only offered me that after I questioned the excessive $8000 that they wanted me to fund. The $4000 curb actually resembles the curb on my side of the street that currently ends at the house next door to me and looks appropriate for the borough. The $8000 option that would have happened if I had not appealed would have resembled the big city ugly concrete curbs on the other side of the street. Apparently the $4000+ curb option existed from the outset, but when a government is spending someone else’s money, there is little incentive to dig deep to save money.

When spending other people’s money, people don’t look for ways to save. Good government knows this, and the  decision like the $8000 option appears to just be the way the bureaucracy makes decisions. It appears to have been left to the contractor, who chose the expensive option based on the fact that the modular concrete and stone curb needed to be replaced with a much more expensive concrete curb.

Nothing nefarious, it’s just the way a bureaucracy and contracting works. There’s a fox and henhouse thing going on here — the contractor has no incentive to shave costs. As a bike mechanic I hate it when customers say ‘do whatever you need to do.’ I like it when we evaluate the bike together and only do what is needed. This keeps cost down. I treat the people who I contract with the way I would want to be treated … and I’m talking about something small like a new cable that may or may not be needed.

The pandemic has forced the closure of multiple trade shows in the media industry, and I have lost about half my freelance writing income for the year.  I used to drive for Uber a bit as well as one of my several side hustles to fund my retirement and stay well ahead of my bills. I won’t do any Uber driving again anytime soon. And as a freelance writer I really have no access to all that unemployment I have paid in to for decades. The only way I could access that is if I quit my existing bike shop job. If I told my boss at the bike shop that I feared Coronavirus and thus would no longer work, I could get paid unemployment and not work. That is nuts. There should be an incentive to work. It’s backwards.

The house in question is a rental property that pays all of its own bills but delivers little profit.  The account that I use for the property will have about $633 in it after the taxes are paid this month.

I own a house in Newtown Borough, and I have established a GoFundMe page to pay for the privilege of trying to keep my family house. My goal was to eventually move back to the borough, but I will need to reconsider this if this local government overreach is the new normal.

When somebody like me who works 50-60 hours per week already has to take on another job to pay for something nobody really wants, the system is broken.**  Is Newtown now only for the six figure income folks?



* The monorail bit is just a joke of course. I have to state that because everything else I’ve written is factually correct to the best of my knowledge. If this was fact checked, this post could be smeared as containing lies, so no the borough plan does not contain a monorail. Moving sidewalks, yes. But no monorail.

**I am not poor, but certainly not rich. I am frugal and constantly keep costs down and work extra jobs for extra income. This morning I woke up at 530am to fix a bike to sell on Craigslist for a quick $100.

Anyone who grew up around Newtown in the 70s or early 80s might remember the budget wine commercial where an ostensibly rich person was drinking inexpensive wine on a yacht or in a penthouse or something. A fellow reveler would ask the host why he drank the inexpensive wine when ‘you’re so rich.’ The response was ‘how do you think I got sooooo rich.’ I couldn’t find the commercial on YouTube, but according to one post I found these adverts were for Chateau Luzerne Wines, which were bottled in Philadelphia and they were apparently the first California wines to be bottled outside of California. Since that commercial is missing, how about a classic bit of Aldo Cella, whose tagline was ‘chill a Chella.’