Pattye Benson

Community Matters

2012 Tredyffrin budget

2012 Township Budget and T/E School Board Updates

Today’s post includes notes from the Board of Supervisors and T/E School Board meetings held last night. Although a prior commitment prevented me from attending last night’s BOS and school board meeting, Ray and Carol Clarke attended the meetings and graciously forwarded their notes. I attended a TMACC (Transportation Management Association of Chester County) meeting and will provide a 202 project –Stage 3 update separately.

At the prior BOS meeting, the preliminary 2012 budget was presented which included a millage increase 6.9% for real estate taxes to cover the $500K deficit. The supervisors left that meeting with determination to review the budget and look for opportunities for further reductions and to take a hard look at expenditures and services before approving any tax increase.

The supervisors continued the budget discussion at last night’s meeting. In their review of the preliminary budget, the supervisors found some ways to decrease expenditures and as a result reduced the tax increase from the initial 6.9% to 3.5%.

The supervisors propose decreasing expenditures in several ways:

1) Reduction of professional fees by $49.7K

2) Use the Capital Fund to fund IT equipment – 67.5K (This changes the revenue source from the Operating Fund to Capital Fund)

3) Supervisors asked township manager to find $45K in reductions. (Not clear on how this will be accomplished; further discussion is required).

4) Defer the hiring of 2 full-time (currently open positions) in the Police Department until July – $85K savings

5) Associated savings in benefits due to #4 – $45K

To lower the tax increase to 3.5%, the supervisors are proposing a combination of decreased expenditures and the using fund balance reserves for the remaining budget shortfall. Based on the 2011 budget process and the severe cuts that were required, I am not sure where Mimi Gleason is going to find $45K in reductions for the 2012 budget. Reductions in the healthcare benefits could produce significant savings for the budget; but apparently due to contract negotiations may not be an option. If a reduction in benefits is off the table as a possible solution, it is not clear what remains that could be reduced.

The 2012 budget will have another final review at the next BOS meeting on December 19. If we want to feel better about our potential 3.5% tax increase, we need look no further than to our next-door neighbors. In Phoenixville, residents are facing a potential 19 percent tax increase to close their 2012 budget deficit. And remember, they pay an Earned Income Tax in Phoenixville!

The T/E School Board meeting was a very short meeting. With a 9-0 vote of confidence, Karen Cruickshank was elected to president and Betsy Fadem as vice president of the school board. Cruickshank will choose the committee chairs and members this week. There are significant Finance and Facilities Committee meetings planned for next week. With the loss of Kevin Mahoney on the school board, the School Board is going to be challenged with the Finance Committee.

In my review of the agenda for last night’s school board meeting, I was disturbed to read that the Public Information Committee would be abolished. Debbie Bookstaber’s presence on the school board had encouraged transparency and public information. Without her advocacy for transparency, it may be challenging for us to receive information during the contract negotiations.

Apparently, the board defended its actions to abolish the Public Information Committee last night, with the feeling that each school board committee should be responsible for their communications. Without the Public Information Committee holding the board to a high communications standard, it becomes the responsibility of the taxpayers to play watchdog. The school board members agreed that if a future need required it, the Public Information Committee could be re-instituted. Why do I feel like we are going backwards with this decision instead of forward?

Now that Debbie Bookstaber is off the school board, maybe she will join the conversation on Community Matters. Her insight as a recent school board director could be extremely valuable in the upcoming teacher contract negotiations.

Tie a Yellow (Pink) Ribbon Round the Old Oak Tree (Light Pole)!

The tale of Tredyffrin’s burned out streetlights continues. Based on comments from several people on Community Matters, I started my mini-research project of non-working street lights in the township. As one person explained, the street light poles are marked with pink ribbons if they need new light bulbs. Sure enough, I see a number of street light poles on Chesterbrook Boulevard tied with bright pink ribbons. On Mill Road, at the entrance of the township building, there are three light poles right in a row with apparent burned-out light bulbs as they each have pink ribbons. Question . . . What is the time line for replacement light bulbs on those light poles adorned with ribbons? Don’t know. I also don’t know how long the ribbons have been on these poles.

Based on some of the comments on Community Matters, I assumed that the Public Works staff was the ones replacing the burned-out light bulbs. However, according to the township website, street light maintenance and repair is not handled in-house but is a contracted service. My guess is that the township staff marks the street poles with pink ribbons and then the outside company does the necessary light bulb changing. Again, not clear how long it takes to get a new light bulb after it is reported and the staff adds the pink ribbon. Residents can fill out an online township form (click here) with location details for light poles requiring new light bulbs or other maintenance issues.

Researching on the township website, I discovered that Tredyffrin owns and operates 1,824 lights. Who knew? The use of the word ‘owns’ may be accurate; but I think we need to address the ‘operating’ part. It is my understanding that PECO actually owns the light poles and the township pays a flat fee for the poles – and it appears that we pay by the pole, regardless if there is a working light bulb or not. There had been some discussion and I hope movement towards changing the regular light bulbs to LED bulbs. LED light bulbs have a higher front end cost than regular light bulbs but they last longer and are much more energy-efficient.

On November 15, 2007, Mimi Gleason presented the 2008 budget. Contained in the budget was the following information on streetlights:

A new initiative is proposed to begin upgrading streetlights to a more energy efficient medium. Most of the Township’s 1,900 streetlights are mercury vapor lights. The most energy efficient, long lasting street light available is a new LED light. Because the technology is new for streetlights, they are still very expensive. Estimates range from $1,000-$1,500 per light or roughly $2.5 – $3 million in total. In time, the cost should come down significantly. The proposed budget includes $50,000 this year to upgrade about 40 lights as a demonstration area to help promote further use of LED lights. With the Board’s approval, during 2008 staff will pursue a state grant to install a larger number of LED streetlights in 2009. From there, we would embark on a very long-term plan to eventually upgrade all of the lights.

Continuing my search for answers on the street light situation, I came across the August 12, 2008 Tredyffrin Township Municipal Authority Minutes with the following information included:

Mr. Norcini [former Public Works director] continued his discussion on the electric rate for streetlights. He said we purchased streetlights from PECO several years ago for cost effectiveness. Our rate is based on street light rates. We plan to install LED lights as a test this year.

Two meters will be installed – one to the existing streetlights and one to the LED lights. The meters should show how much electricity the LED light uses and how much our existing lights compare to what PECO says it uses. If the LED test project works and provides savings to us, we can determine a capital plan to replace the existing lights. We will be metering on Cassatt Road, and testing 14-15 new LED lights on North Valley Road from Central to Swedesford.

Fast forward to 2011 and next month the supervisors will be reviewing the proposed 2012 township budget. I for one will be looking at the line listing in the budget for street lighting and will be very curious to see its ‘expense’. In my research, I could not find the name of the company that holds the contract with the township on street lighting.

It is somewhat interesting to see where the township ‘was’ and where it is ‘now’ on the subject of light bulbs. I wonder what happened to the upgrading of the streetlights to LED plan in the township.

Gosh, at this point, I just want to see all the burned-out light bulbs prioritized (and replaced)! Seems to me that this discussion could also fall under the category of resident ‘safety’.

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