The Spirit

Kirkland ‘cronies’ run Chester agency that could take residents’ houses, Roots claims

Stefan Roots

Stefan Roots

Chester City homeowners – at least 1,600 — have liens on their properties; put there by the Chester Stormwater Authority (CSA) that City Councilman and mayoral candidate Stefan Roots said is an organization run by the current mayor and his “friends and cronies.”

At a news conference this week, Roots, who is challenging Kirkland in next Tuesday’s primary election, called the CSA “Kirkland’s largest boondoggle (that he) created and run by his friends, which has rung up $32 million in debt in just five years.”

“And now,” Roots said, “Kirkland’s (CSA) is coming after the residents of Chester. (It) has put liens on 1,600 properties in Chester for non-payment of annual stormwater fees. The fees alone make home ownership in Chester that much harder and saddle Chester residents with financial, legal and emotional distress.”

Roots said, in a majority of cases, the stormwater fees owed by residents were $500 or less and with the added costs of legal fees, he fears the action might be “a money and land grab” if people were to lose their homes. A letter issued by the CSA, threatens homeowners that, “Additional failure to pay (fees) may also cause the Authority to place a lien on your property which could result in foreclosure.”

Thaddeus Kirkland

Thaddeus Kirkland

Basing his comments on a series of publicly available resources, Roots said, “Kirkland formed (CSA) in 2017 (and) hired someone with no experience in public works to run it, and appointed his friends as paid board members.”

“By 2022,” he explained, “it had racked up borrowings of $32 million that Chester property owners will be responsible to pay over the next 20 years. The authority collects approximately $4 millio a year in stormwater fees from Chester property owners (and) uses about half of that money to pay Kirkland’s friends. Meanwhile, it’s saddling a bankrupt city with tens of millions in additional debt that isn’t reflected on the bankrupt city’s balance sheet.”

Roots said the CSA board, last year, “met six times by phone for a grand total of three hours (and) collected $3.5 million in stormwater fees in 2021. Their budget calls for $4.6 million in stormwater fees in 2023. That is a whopping 31 percent tax increase in two years.”

“As if all of that wasn’t bad enough,” Roots said, the CSA, “with vociferous support from Kirkland, is now proposing to build a six-acre lake in Memorial Park.”

Calling the proposal “Lake Inferior,” Roots said, “The proposed $10 million boondoggle is totally unnecessary for flooding control, will create safety risks, and will incur maintenance expenses that would further drain the city’s coffers.”

“Lake Inferior is emblematic of Kirkland’s ill-conceived deals that are bad for Chester,” Roots said, asking, “Why would Kirkland think it is okay to burden a city already in bankruptcy with $32 million more debt for projects it does not need? Why think it is okay to put liens on 1,600 Chester property owners to support this kind of activity? Why would Kirkland think it is okay to form a taxing authority to benefit his friends? What does it accomplish, putting 1,600 Chester residents at risk of losing their homes and businesses, with these liens?

Roots said the CSA “is the latest and largest in a long line of bad deals that put Kirkland and his friends first and hurt Chester residents who can least afford it.”

Kirkland has repeatedly said the city’s financial problems started before he was elected, and that, “I don’t take responsibility for negative finances here in the city.”

But Roots and other Kirkland detractors say the evidence is overwhelming that the current mayor’s dealings lack integrity.

Roots offered five other examples:

PARKING. Kirkland sold Chester’s parking rights to an out-of-state for-profit corporation on a no-bid contract with a $12 million exit penalty. Kirkland allowed them to charge $35 fees for parking violations and set the highest parking meter rates in Delaware County.

PENSION. From the day he took office in 2016, Kirkland failed to make minimum payments into the Chester City pension funds, a liability that has now ballooned to $40 million. Kirkland, head of the City Pension Board, testified in court he didn’t know the payments were short, saying, “some things fall through the cracks.”

COVANTA. Kirkland “negotiated” a permanent reduction in the fees the city receives from Covanta for hosting its trash incinerator. By cutting the amount Covanta pays Chester, the city lost $10 million in host fees over the past five years.

ACCOUNTING FAILURES. Under Kirkland, the city’s annual audits are three years behind. “You can’t lead a city unless you do the books and get them right, Roots said.

INCOMPETENCE. Kirkland claims he didn’t know the city lost $400,000 in a phishing scam until three months after it occurred. The city filed for bankruptcy shortly after.

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