In a recent editorial, a local resident who also happens to be a local firefighter pointed out some of the qualities in our community that make so many people look to Tredyffrin as a great place to employ and be employed, to educate our children, to worship, to raise a family, to run a business. In short the qualities that make our township such a wonderful place to live. These are qualities which have long constituted the character of this community – ones which hopefully will endure in the future.
One of the qualities I’ve also mentioned on a number of occasions as being one of our township’s most endearing, qualities I believe have been equally integral to the character of our community, has been the generous spirit of volunteerism – the spirit of giving, the spirit of shared sacrifice and the spirit of shared risk and reward – that makes up the very fiber and indeed the history of our township.
That is why last fall, in that same spirit of shared sacrifice, during what remains to this day to be extraordinarily challenging economic times, the Tredyffrin Township Board of Supervisors voted to adopt a 2010 budget that contained within it some very difficult but necessary decisions. Within our budget were the results of an earlier decision to reduce our township staff by 20 positions – 11 of those through layoffs, the rest through attrition. The budget froze most other township salaries with the exception of those required by collective-bargaining agreement, we instituted a hiring freeze and we reduced the police budget. All other general fund services, with the exception of the fire companies, were reduced by at least 14 percent.
By comparison fire-company service providers’ budgets were reduced a modest 5 percent. In so doing, we adopted I believe what the community wanted, a budget that was fair and balanced and contained no real-estate property-tax increase. Despite these good works, during our deliberations we continued to hear from many in the community who asked that we try and find a way to preserve funding sought by the local fire companies. Not unlike a former supervisor who often utilized the bully pulpit we sit on to urge citizens to give generously to the fire companies, it was in response to these requests, that Mr. Olson, Mr. Kampf and I – citizens who happen to be supervisors and public servants who are also citizens of this same community – worked hard to find a way.
And the good news we announced way back on Dec. 21 was that in a great example of private-public partnering – not unlike our much larger and equally successful Library Capital Campaign a few years ago – individuals, businesses both large and small, organizations and foundations generously came forward in response to our year-end holiday appeal on behalf of our local fire companies. As was also stated at the time, the most remarkable aspect of our ability to provide the sought-after funding was really the manner in which we accomplished it. In a little more than 10 days we were able to restore the funding not in the form of additional subsidies, spending and new or higher taxes during challenging times, but in the form of pledges by others in our community who by their generosity agreed to reach out and lend a hand during the holiday season.
And that I suppose is why I was so compelled during our last public meeting to question the motivations of those few individuals who came forward to challenge what we successfully achieved nearly four-and-a-half months earlier. My fear is the continued rhetoric being displayed by those who for one reason or another still can’t comprehend the generosity of our community is in fact putting at risk some of these same qualities I believe are critical to our future and ones that we must maintain. Perhaps they didn’t believe that the funding we announced in the form of pledges would really ever be received. Well, we know now the facts are we’ve actually exceeded in charitable giving what was sought to be funded through tax dollars. We also know by earlier comments by a local blogger and former unsuccessful Democratic candidate for township supervisor that she and other similarly motivated individuals had a stronger preference to reach into our taxpayers’ pockets for funding, and that the notion of shared sacrifice for the greater good perhaps shouldn’t necessarily be shared by all. In my view this would have been to take the easier and I think incorrect road – one of increased taxpayer subsidies and spending.
So with that said, and with the political season in full swing, with the run-up to the Pennsylvania primary election on May 18, it’s always easy for those who clearly have a different point of view, or who are otherwise politically inclined, to throw around words like “conflict of interest,” “ethics” and “pay to play.” While I respect everyone’s First Amendment right to come forward at our meetings and speak their mind, those who know me best understand that I will also never shy away from expressing my own views. And in this instance, while I find that to make such politically charged and unfair assertions some four-and-a-half months later may help sell newspapers, it represents quite a ridiculous point of view with no basis in fact other than to dangerously put in jeopardy one of our township’s demonstrated and most cherished qualities – the spirit of charitable giving. Frankly the tone of some of the comments made near the end of our April 19 meeting was to somehow absurdly suggest that companies doing business in our township aren’t caring citizens too. That is just flat-out wrong, and to continue this type of rhetoric is in fact to tear at the fabric of what in part makes this community great. But, you know, in the end I think the political shots some of us have been receiving are nothing compared to the shots average citizens have taken in our community these past few years.
So while I’m not worried about the former, I do worry about making the right decisions for our community. The economic stress in our township is still very real. Revenue used to fund government services generated by transfer taxes on the sale of residential and commercial properties isn’t what it used to be, some folks have lost their jobs and their homes, and many have seen their retirement savings greatly depleted. So as I’ve stated, while it isn’t all that unusual in the heat of the political season for every gnat in the minority that’s ever nipped at our heels to want to take us on – or at least those of us who may happen to be running for one political office or another – I would challenge those who have differing views to put aside the rhetoric. I’m all too happy to have a spirited debate on the real issues facing our community. On public-safety matters like support for our firefighters, let’s put aside the politics. I hope that, for the sake of our community and the continuation of the qualities that make this community great, we can all agree on the positive nature of what was accomplished by bringing people of walks of life together in Tredyffrin to help the fire companies.
I’m committed to doing so if you are. But if there’s anyone who still wishes to draw a political lesson relative to my statement concerning my own character, please know this. I will continue to work for you in good times and bad, and not shy away from making the right and often hard decisions I believe are in the best interests for our community. And lastly, one of the qualities I neglected to mention that also makes this township so great is that we do have good government in Tredyffrin, from the guy who plows your streets to this elected board. We work hard to keep your taxes as low as we can, maintaining the services you have come to expect, while at the same time not making local government intrusive in your lives. So when you do go to the polls on May 18, as I’ve mentioned in these remarks, and like the citizen firefighter who expressed so eloquently the qualities that make this township such a special place, please consider what it’s going to take to continue to maintain these qualities in our community in the future. So whether you’re a citizen supervisor from our own township who aspires to higher public office, or any other candidate, know we’re not playing games here; we’re here doing what we believe is the people’s business.