As a taxpayer and an audience member at last night’s Board of Supervisors meeting, I expected to have a copy of the final 2013 budget prior to the vote. According to BOS Chair Michelle Kichline and Township Manager Bill Martin, they were working on the final budget until the last minutes and ran out of time to have copies available.
The proposed budget for 2013 had indicated a 5.5% tax increase – the final version brought the tax increase down to 3.1%. Without a copy of the revised budget, it was difficult to know where the changes had occurred. The Finance Director Tim Klarich explained that differences from the proposed to final budget was due to a variety of adjustments. Martin ran through the changes quickly, making it hard to follow without a copy of the budget. One adjustment in the 2013 budget has the elimination of one full-time library position. It was offered that the changes in the final budget were minor from the proposed budget – if they were ‘minor’, then I really do not understand why copies of the changes could not have been available.
Prior to casting their vote, each supervisor offered a statement. Mike Heaberg, Phil Donohue, Michelle Kichline and Kristen Mayock voted in favor of the budget with the tax increase, explaining that it was fiscally responsible. Although the average increase to taxpayers in the 2013 budget, according to Kichline, is about $16, EJ Richter stated the increase would be $35 and would not vote for the budget with a tax increase. Paul Olson also voted against the budget, citing the tax increase. John DiBuonaventuro’s vote against the budget but his reason was specific to the decreased staffing of the police department.
Tredyffrin Township Police Department currently has 40 uniformed police officers, although there were 47 officers listed in the 2012 budget. The police operations study by ICMA ($49K consulting contract) indicated a minimum of 43 uniformed officers were required maintain the safety of the community. At the December 3 BOS meeting, Police Superintendent Tony Giaimo had requested that the Board consider reinstating ‘47’ officers in the 2013 budget. However, there are only 42 uniformed officers listed in the 2013 budget.
Again, I have to ask, what was the value of the $49K consulting study? The most important element of the report would be how many officers are required to maintain safety in the community. According to the consultants report the absolute minimum is 43 uniformed officers to maintain current safety levels – actually the 43 number assumed scheduling changes. Without the scheduling changes, the consultants recommended 45 uniformed officers.
Bottom line, why spend $49K to have consultants do a study if you are not going to use the results? How much more per taxpayer would it cost to add a few more police? If the average tax increase is $16 for 2013, I think most of us would gladly pay a few more dollars to maintain the level of safety. In light of the Newtown, Connecticut tragedy, the last area of the budget that needs to be cut is the police department. I am all for being fiscally responsible, but the police department needs to be adequately staff. To be clear, the 2013 township budget cuts police staffing from 47 uniformed police officers to 42 officers. And just think, it wasn’t that long ago that Tredyffrin Township had 50+ uniformed officers!
It should also be noted that those two additional uniformed police officers in the 2013 budget will not be hired until there is a contract settlement between the township and the police union. As of now, the arbitration continues without any indication of a settlement date!
The Board of Supervisors passed the 2013 township budget, 4-3 with a 3.1% tax increase (and a decrease in the number of uniformed police officers.)
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Last week I posted the way my new home funds their fire department and emergency services. As a requirement of home ownership (and to get a rated homeowner’s policy), you register your home with the Fire Department. You are charged based on the assessed value of the home, which attempts to reflect the market value of the structure.
Will Tredyffrin ever think of any way but “our way” when it comes to these services? I don’t know the right number of police, but it seems to me that this community has very high expectations, and as long as they are not open to investigating an earned income tax, people can and will be forced to pay based on property tax. Some may vote it down on principle, but with only 7 board members, those “no” votes are little more than symbolism.
Can it be time again to implement a community task force to review and consider financial implications of reduced assessment values and ultimately a lower bond rating given the unfunded liability? Just a little “out of the box” thinking….this isn’t about balancing a budget, it’s about creatively managing it and educating the community on the alternatives.
I actually had to get up and leave from the meeting because the majority of this board is such a disgrace and not doing any good services to the community.
To not share the 2013 budget with the township who votes and pays taxes is disrespectful, sneaky and hopefully a wake up call to voting citizens.
After the school shooting on Friday in a town in CT, after using our tax money to spend nearly $50,000 and dismiss the results of a ‘study’ is an insult to our police force and our towns people.
We expect to feel safe and protected and instead they left the police force down in numbers and stretched thin.
Shame on Mike Heaberg, Phil Donohue, Michelle Kichline and Kristen Mayock!
Can I get an AMEN?
Public sector budgeting in the “new normal” is a hard exercise. And it’s certainly not made any easier for the public to understand by the type of hurried unquantified mumblings we heard last night.
On the one hand, household income is flat. Tax increases would have to come at the expense of some other family expenditure. Moreover, our local tax base is entirely dependent on property values and transactions, imperfectly correlated with ability to pay and subject to a base that has declined from “bubble” levels. On the other hand, the cost of services has risen inexorably because of commitments to public employees for pay, pension and healthcare payment increases.
So, what’s to be done? An initial step is to be more efficient, to provide the same service levels with less. I think that our township employee headcount is down by some 15-20 (over 10%) since 2007. Next, we can look at those compensation commitments. New employee benefits, except for the police, have been reduced. And we can look at service levels. The reduced paving program of recent years was a temporary measure of this type (for which we now have to compensate). The recent report provides a basis for that discussion relating to the half of the township budget consumed by the police department. Bottom line: we should expect our government to leave no stone unturned, while keeping a close eye on outcome measures: roads paved, crime statistics, response times, library users, resident satisfaction, etc.
And at the same time, we have to be honest about the township finances. That means things like not budgeting transfer taxes that are not expected to materialize, recognizing the full cost of employees and recognizing/planning for the full extent of liabilities like paid time off and retiree benefits.
The BOS vote reflects differing approaches to balancing these forces. Richter and Olson believe that residents have no money for more taxes, and further efficiencies can be made. DiBuonaventuro believes that seven additional police officers should be funded to ensure safety in the township. The majority struck a balance somewhere between the two, budgeting to add two officers from current levels, but to eliminate one of two planned library staffers and to squeeze other expenses, resulting in the 3% tax increase. (Note that the full cost of one average police officer is equivalent to a 2% tax increase).
My guess is that the majority of the township would strike a similar balance, but who knows? Certainly not from the sparse attendance last night. There’s much at fault with a process that compresses the public discussion into a few weeks in the midst of the holiday season, just two weeks before the budget year begins.
Finally, I remain unconvinced about the whole unfunded liability situation. Since the tax increase is being sold on the basis of this issue, I think that residents are owed a clear exposition along the lines of the following:
1. The budget should include the full current year cost of our employees, including the present value of all immediate and deferred compensation. The cash for deferred compensation should go into the trust fund the BOS is discussing. This means, I think, that the unfunded liability should cease growing, except for increases in costs beyond the actuarial assumptions. I think this would result in a $1.5 million increase in the expense budget? (The actual amount depends crucially, of course, on the police arbitration decision).
2. The current budget also includes $700,000 for retiree healthcare premiums, presumably included in the “unfunded” liability at the beginning of the year. What is the estimated year-by-year amount of these payments into the future (totaling the full $41 million), assuming they are paid just as they became due, net of payments from the new trust fund applicable to current and future years’ service?
3. Given answers to the above, what’s a sensible taxation (EIT?) and funding plan considering both that current year funds will be freed up as bond principal is paid down and also that some funding might be possible from reserves?
I think it’s important that we are not intimidated into diverting money from current year services to a fund a liability that is in fact manageable in the long term from future revenues (once the full annual cost is accounted for).
As was said earlier, no actuary can begin to predict what it will take to fund a pension….it’s really a modern day ponzi scheme. While pensions are wonderful vehicles for those who have them, it’s time to talk about taking them out of the mix. The only few sectors that still have pensions are not even counting on future employee deductions to pay them — they are counting on taxing people to pay them. WHen you can only earn 50 cents on $100 in today’s economy (given limited investment options for municiple funding) you have no choice but NOT to fund future liabilities but instead to simply expect to tax as required.
Which is less fair?
An EIT reflects one thing — the tax is on the “ability to pay” — but it doesn’t neutralize property tax revenues. At least the transfer tax is like ante-ing up when you sit down at the table. Pull the trigger folks. The entire country is unable to fund future liabilities because they cannot put away enough money to do it.
A pension of $80,000 a year….what is the cost of an annuity today to produce that?
Aren’t there any procedural requirements that the public have a copy of the motion on the floor? How can there be public comment on a topic if you are not given a copy of it?
If I recall correctly this isn’t the first time Tredyffrin has paid several thousands of dollars on an emergency service study only to throw it in the trash. Ask the fire companies how well that worked out for them too.