TTPA

When will Tredyffrin Township hire budgeted police officers?

When will Tredyffrin Township hire budgeted police officers?

Looking for answers, today I met with Tredyffrin Police Superintendent Tony Giaimo. I wanted to understand the search for and selection of police officers. As I explained to Giaimo, applicants for police department positions have contacted me over the last 6-8 months, anxious for a hiring update. I learned much about the police department hiring process and thought it worthwhile to share.

Early in 2012, the Tredyffrin Township Police Department advertised the April 14, 2012 physical assessment and written test date for vacancies in the department.  According to Giaimo, 130+ individuals applied to take the physical and written exam.  In addition to the application form, a physician statement and informed consent form were required.

The physical assessment is judged pass/fail; the written test included multiple-choice questions plus a written narrative.  If a candidate passed the physical exam and received an 80% or higher score on the written exam, they moved to the next step.  All candidates were notified of the test results 2-4 weeks following the April 14th exam.

Of the 130+ applicants, close to 100 individuals passed the physical test and scored 80% or higher on the written part. The next step for the successful applicants was an oral interview by an Oral Interview Board, composed of three police personnel selected by Giaimo. At the time of the interview, applicants were required to provide education transcripts, military discharge papers when applicable, and three reference letters (other than relative and employers). Failure to provide documents at the interview, disqualified applicants from the selection process.  The interviews were conducted between June and August 2012.

Each member of the Oral Interview Board independently scores the oral interviews and those scores are then added to the written exam score. For those applicants that advance to the next step, they receive a polygraph examination. According to Giaimo, the polygraph test is to indicate deception on a pre-determined set of questions.  After the polygraph phase, the top list of 15 candidates is prepared.  The ranking is based on all phases of the test process to this point.  For those 15 candidates, the next step is a background investigation by the Tredyffrin Township Police Department including previous employment, education record, military record, criminal history, credit rating, etc.

The next step is a conditional offer of employment.  Hiring is contingent upon successful completion of psychological and physical examinations and selection by the Police Superintendent. (I believe this part of the examination process takes approximately 4 months.) Once this conditional phase is completed, the cadet serves a two-year probationary period.

At the start, prospective applicants are told that the process takes approximately 6-8 months from the time the exam is taken – in this case, the exam was given on April 14 so if they successfully completed each step, vacancies were to be filled somewhere between October – December, 2012.

I received a call from a father of one of the cadets that is on Tredyffrin Police Department’s ‘short list’ in early January, looking for an update.  I assured him that the township would be hiring 2 police officers shortly.  I was confident giving this response for the following reasons, (1) the police contract was settled; (2) the ICMA consultant’s study (pg. 11) suggested a minimum of 2 additional officers were required to maintain township safety levels and (3) supervisors approved the 2013 budget that included 2 additional police officers (with the possibility of a third officer added sometime during the year).

The focus of my meeting with Superintendent Giaimo was to find out the hiring date of the two police officers.  Remember the cadets were told last April the application process would take approximately 6-8 months; it’s now 10 months!

I could not believe Giaimo’s response today re the hiring of police officers; telling me that he had not been authorized to hire.  What?  That’s right folks. The police contract was signed in December and the 2013 township budget approved (which included the hiring of the two officers) but the Board of Supervisors have not given Giaimo permission to hire the two officers.  Gosh, even pg. 11 of the ICMA police department study indicated the township needed to hire two officers to maintain satisfactory safety levels.

Giaimo assured me that he has the ranked list of candidates ready to go — all he needs is the OK from the BOS to make the offers. If you think that adequate staffing of our Police Department is an important issue, you may want to attend the next BOS meeting on February 11 and offer your opinion.

Tredyffrin Pays $83K for Police Contract Arbitration, or … was it really $133K?

The Board of Supervisors and the School Board have their first meetings of the New Year this week.  As is often the case, Tredyffrin’s Board of Supervisors meeting conflicts with the TESD Board meeting. Scheduled for Monday night is both the Board of Supervisor’s organizational and regular meeting at the township building and the T/E School Board will hold a special school board meeting to consider the 2013-14 budget at the T/E Administration Building.  Unfortunately, both meetings are at the same time – 7:30 PM.

The Board of Supervisor’s organizational meeting includes the adoption of the meeting schedule for the various township boards and commissions, naming of emergency service providers, adoption of township fee schedule, legal and accounting reviews, etc.

One of the interesting aspects of the organizational meeting each year is the naming of the Chair and Vice Chair of the Board of Supervisors.  The seven Board members nominate and vote on these positions.  Historically, these positions go to the longest-serving members on the Board.  However, in 2012, that tradition shifted with the naming of Michelle Kichline as Chair. Kichline had only served 2 years as supervisor and neither as a Vice Chair, but received the unanimous support of her fellow board members for the chair position.  Having served longer than Kichline, many had expected John DiBuonaventuro to receive the 2012 nod for Chair but instead he served as Vice Chair. The Board of Supervisors saw their share of controversy in 2012, so it will be curious to see if Michelle receives another vote of confidence to continue as Chair and JD to continue as Vice Chair.

After the ceremonious organizational meeting, there is a regular supervisors meeting, including a Public Hearing to “consider and enact an ordinance of the Township of Tredyffrin, Chester County, and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, fixing rates of taxation for the year 2013.”  We learned at the last BOS meeting in December that the township tax increase is set at 3.1%, down from the 5.5% originally forecast.

Since the December 17th supervisors meeting, we have learned of the Act 111 Arbitration Award issued for the collective bargaining agreement between the township and the police union. Much has been written about the agreement on Community Matters with many comments. If you are interested in details of the 4-year contract (2012-15), I would suggest you review posts from late December.  Once the arbitration award was announced, I submitted a right-to-know request for a complete accounting of the arbitration related expenses paid by the township.  It should be noted that this is the second police contract in a row that has gone directly to arbitration by the township.  In both instances, the impartial arbitrator came down on the side of the police union in regards to the post-retirement benefits. We know that retirement benefits , including pensions and healthcare, were major contributors to the long-standing debate between the two sides.

According to township manager Bill Martin, the arbitration costs to the township (taxpayers) re the police contract is as follows – Michael Zobrak, impartial arbitrator $14,136.46 and township arbitrators John McLaughlin, Patrick Harvey, Brian Pinheiro, etc. billed 273 hours for $69,337.50.  If my math is correct, the taxpayers paid $83,473.96 for the arbitration of the police contract.

Below are the details that Bill Martin sent for the township arbitrator costs.  John McLaughlin, Patrick Harvey and Brian Pinheiro are all partners in the Philadelphia law firm of Ballard Spahr.  The law firm billed the township 273 hours for a total of $69,337.50 which equates to $254/hr on the average.  On April 3, 2012 there are 100+ hours billed to the township under the name, ‘PFM’ — I am clueless as to what that means but I will contact the township manager for clarification.

I am struggling to understand these billable hours from Ballard Spahr.  It was my understanding that there was little (if any?) movement from the township’s initial position going into the arbitration process.  If that is the case, how is it that the total number of hours in 2012 (setting aside the hours from 2011) are so substantially higher than the total billable hours of  Michael Zobrak, the impartial arbitrator.

Something else I should point out is that on my right-to-know request in which I asked for ‘costs to date’ was dated January 1, 2013 and Martin’s response was dated January 4th. If you look at the last billing date from Ballard Spahr (below) it was back on Oct. 18, over 2 months prior to the signing of the arbitration agreement on December 23, 2012. It stands to reason that there are additional billable hours yet to be received from Ballard Spahr for those 2+ months, including the review of the arbitration award before its release.  I would maintain that the township has not seen the end of the costs — $83K may not be the entire costs.

TT Arbitrator Costs

I would suggest that we should also add the ICMA (International City/County Management Association) police department consulting fee of $49K to the total cost of the police contract negotiations.  Much of ICMA’s report was boilerplate language and their specific, cost-savings suggestions would require collective bargaining changes.  The way I see it, the township has already spent approximately $133K trying to lower police department expenses.  Based on the arbitration award, we know that the police department retained most of their prior contract benefits.

What bearing is the Act 111 arbitration award going to have on the township’s 2013 budget?  The supervisors and the finance director Tim Klarich did not have the benefit of a crystal ball in regards to the arbitration award when they calculated the 2013 budget. In addition, we still have the issue that there were 47 uniformed police in the 2012 township budget and the 2013 budget has the number reduced to 42.  The 42 uniformed police officers is two more officers than are currently in the department.  Now that the police contract is settled, will the supervisors OK the hiring of those two additional officers?

Lifetime healthcare benefits of Tredyffrin Township Police Association result in $40M unfunded liability — What’s the Solution?

I attended the public meeting this week to discuss the township’s proposed preliminary 2013 budget.  About 10 residents attended plus township supervisors Michelle Kichline and Mike Heaberg (Heaberg is a member of the Finance Committee) and Acting Township Manager and Finance Director Tim Klarich.

Over the course of two hours, various topics were discussed with Klarich and the two supervisors, providing answers and background on numerous issues.  The townships’ $40 M unfunded medical liability and the open issue on the labor agreement between the township and the police union, Tredyffrin Township Police Association (TTPA) were of particular interest to me.  The ‘elephant in the room’ for the township’s 2013 budget and major obstacle (and the reason for the township’s $40M liability) is the ongoing arbitration with the police contract and their lifetime health benefits.

Since January 2012, the contract between TTPA and Tredyffrin Township has been in arbitration; the 3-year police contract expired the end of 2011. Kichline was quick to point out that both sides want an arbitration decision but unfortunately, for 10+ months, the process has been held captive, waiting for a ruling from independent arbitrator, Michael Zobrak from Aliquippa, PA.  According to PA Department of Labor & Industry website, Zobrak’s fee is $1200 per diem (however, his page was last updated in 2007).  Interesting to note, there is no requirement for the arbitrator to be an attorney — Zobrak’s education background includes BA, Geneva College and M.Ed, U of Pittsburgh.

According to Kichline and Klarich, Zobrak has held meetings with the attorneys representing the township and TTPA.  It was unclear how many meetings have been held and/or how often.  Although I am sure both sides hope that a resolution is forthcoming, there was nothing definitive stated as to when that might happen. For the record, I called Zobrak’s office and left a voice mail – I will update if I receive a response.

The biggest roadblock in collective bargaining contract disputes these days is health care benefits (in addition to salaries). Certainly health care benefits were an important component in the recently settled T/E teacher contract negotiations.  Appreciating the current economic environment, the teachers agreed that their generous healthcare plan of the past was no longer possible, changes were made in their teacher’s contract accordingly.  Considering the healthcare provisions of the former TESD contract, made it even more surprising to learn the details of the health care benefits of TTPA.

If some residents were bothered by the health care benefit package contained in the previous TTEA contract, I think they would be shocked at the level of TTPA health care coverage.  Currently, all Tredyffrin police officers receive free full lifetime health care benefits for themselves and their families after 25 years of service to the township.  At present 52 retired police officers and families, receive full free healthcare in Tredyffrin Township.  In addition there are a number (not sure of the exact count) of currently employed police officers that are in the 25+ years of service who will receive this  lifetime healthcar coverage under the conditions of the existing contract.

The lifetime healthcare benefits of TTPA constitute the township’s $40M unfunded liability.  According to Kichline, the lifetime health care benefits afforded members of TTPA in their current contract, is not found in most other area municipal police contracts. Here was an interesting twist — I assumed that any change to the current health care benefit of TTPA would affect new hires only (similar to what is being discussed in Harrisburg as it relates to the pension situation, where changes would not affect those employees already in the system).  It is possible (however, probably not likely) that the independent arbitrator could change the lifetime healthcare benefits to affect not only new hires, but also include TTPA members already receiving these benefits. As I have previously stated re the state pension, I support changing the benefits for new hires but not for those employees already in the system.  I am of the same opinion that the same should hold true for members of TTPA.  The healthcare benefits should only be changed for new police department hires – however that means the township still has the $40M unfunded liability ‘noose’ around its neck!

We spent much time during the meeting discussing the township’s $40M unfunded liability.  In the proposed 2013 preliminary budget, Klarich has increased funding from $250K to $500K as a way to start to buy down this debt.  A couple of the residents in attendance were advocating for a greater yearly contribution, say $2M annually, as a way of addressing the $40M debt.

Personally, I think there should be a degree of concern that this enormous liability of $40M could have an adverse effect on the township’s current AAA bond rating.  On the other hand, is it reasonable to expect that Moody’s would view the township’s yearly $500K contribution favorably and continue to award the township with its gold star rating?  Remember at $500K/year, it will take the township 80 years to reach that $40M mark.

Knowing that the township has an open issue on the TTPA labor agreement and the $40M unfunded liability, what is the answer?  I get it that we all want to keep the highest level of service in our community and pay nothing additional for those services, but practically speaking that is not possible.  Beginning in 2015, the state is requiring all municipalities to include their unfunded liability in its accounting.

There are few avenues available to the township to handle the staggering debt beyond an increase in our real estate taxes … except for the option to institute an Earned Income Tax.  Unlike the School Board, the township supervisors would not need a voter referendum to institute this tax.  The topic of EIT was brought up at the meeting, there appeared to be little interest in furthering the discussion.  Although not seen as a favorable option by some, shouldn’t there be serious consideration given to an EIT?

How many Tredyffrin residents work in another jurisdiction that has an Earned Income Tax?  If they do, the EIT dollars the Tredyffrin resident pays stays in that jurisdiction because our township does not have an EIT. There has always been much misunderstanding about who would pay an EIT but unearned income, such as Social Security, interest, dividends and pensions are exempt from the tax unlike an increase in property tax which affects all homeowners, whether they are on a fixed income or not.  I have struggled to understand why it is that the supervisors are reticent to consider the option – especially considering that most of our neighbors have an EIT and many of our residents are already paying this tax.  Millions of dollars leave Tredyffrin in EIT payments, helping to subsidize the budgets of neighbor’s budgets.

The proposed 2013 preliminary budget for includes a 5.5% tax increase in addition to a decrease in the police staff. Part of the rationale behind not replacing police staff is that any new hires will come in under the conditions of the last TTPA contract, which includes the lifetime healthcare benefit.  If the arbitrator were to come back with a contract that removes the lifetime healthcare benefit, it would be financially better for the township to wait until after the new contract is signed before hiring new police staff.

Again, no one wants to pay additional taxes but how much longer will it be OK with Tredyffrin residents to see their services reduced in order to balance the township budget?  What happens if the $40M unfunded liability jeopardizes township’s AAA bond rating? And what about capital improvements, ongoing maintenance and infrastructure needs of our community? With residential and commercial real estate transfer revenue way down, what is the funding solution for Tredyffrin …  if it isn’t raising real estate taxes or instituting an EIT?  What’s the answer?

What about the Tredyffrin Township resident who pays EIT to another municipality when it could be helping this community?  How does that resident feel – below are comments from John Petersen, a resident who pays EIT to a neighboring municipality:

Ever since the Tax Study Commission Report of 2006 was released, I’ve called it an intellectually dishonest exercise. I said that and continue to say that because of the factors that were willfully ignored. The unfunded pension liability under discussion was one of those factors. Back then, the unfunded liability was estimated to be around $25MM. As predicted, in a short amount of time, that figure has doubled. I remember Bob Lamina prophetically saying at a BoS meeting that this issue was the most significant one facing the township and the township will have to face up to this impending reality.

I pay an EIT – as do thousands of Tredyffrin residents. I for one am tired of being disenfranchised by this government – a government run by the TTOP proletariat that refuses to discuss an EIT. Not that the points have to be enumerated again, I will do so here:

  • Many pay an EIT already
  • Surrounding governments plan their budgets around the fact that Tredyffrin DOES NOT levy an EIT (read as we subsidize other townships)
  • Had an EIT been levied years ago, part of the unfunded liability could have been paid off
  • An EIT is the only means of providing property tax relief
  • At least one large company (Shire) is leaving Tredyffrin for East Whiteland (that does levy an EIT)

Indeed, there are some who will be adversely affected. Those who live in and work in Tredyffrin. I believe that to be an extreme minority of people. Regardless, the realities of the situation are such where an EIT must be discussed.

I won’t bother getting into who one particular political organization has sucked the oxygen out of the room re: stifling the conversation or how the opposing party has succumbed to fear by adopting the same philosophy re: the EIT.

Bottom line – I pay tax dollars that could make their way to Tredyffrin. The local government is denying that right and in the process, disenfranchising those like me who already pay an EIT.

Maybe at long last, there can be an honest discussion.

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