Living in Hanover

Living in Hanover

'Apparently a blog about living in Hanover'

Boro Budget Heats Up

December 18, 2012 | 24 Comments

Things are getting interesting.

On a walk around downtown the other day, I saw some flyers posted in various places. A group of people apparently want to stir up some action to oppose the borough’s proposed tax increase.

Then, I find today’s paper includes a letter from two former council members, Bryce Little and Pete Keriazes. They both rank pretty highly among the people I have ever dealt with on municipal issues.

Even though I admire people for standing up, I have some mixed feelings. I don’t want to discourage people from having their voice heard. I just worry that sometimes the wrong message comes out of this kind of involvement, and it comes too late.

First off, people really need to stop using the 38 percent figure. I know 38 percent sounds scarier, but if we’re really encouraging council to make late changes to the budget, let’s use real dollar figures to find out how the $30.2 million budget can be trimmed. Instead of yelling “38 percent” over and over again, look at around $250 for the average homeowner. The hike is not good and may significantly affect some people, but it’s $250 for the average property owner, not $2,500 or $25,000.

And let’s stop acting as if landlords are being so horribly targeted here because they can possibly spread that over 12 months and usually over multiple renters without significantly raising rental rates. A four-unit house at the average property assessment works out to $5 a month per unit. Cry me a river, Dan Moul. There are others more affected by this than you. The 38 percent only exists for shock value and does very little to truly assess whether borough staff and council could find a different path for the 2013 budget.

Since borough manager Barb Krebs won’t reveal to the public – and to some council members – actual salary figures for administrators until tomorrow’s finance committee meeting, it’s hard to tell how much possible changes to those figures could help that budget. I tried to get them via a Right to Know request, but was told they couldn’t release them since they weren’t officially part of a resolution yet.

This has driven my complaining. If we face such a tremendous fiscal problem in the borough, why don’t council and the public get every single possible number way in advance of the final month of deliberations? These things are not surprises. Everything should be above the table – and not just between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. at the borough office for people who want to muddle through the actual budget document.

It also makes you realize that Krebs’ statement that “(w)e cut every possible place we could cut” is utterly false since she’s holding onto the actual salary figures and only making references to percentage figures for raises for administrators (either 2.5 or 3 percent, depending on which department they supervise – and that doesn’t count any longevity bonuses, which boost their pay a further 3 to 10 percent). So they didn’t cut everywhere they could because the administrative staff can go without raises for a year to try and keep the tax hike down some.

Bryce and Pete allude to this in their letter. Has every avenue been exhausted? Will council really take an extra long look at this budget and try to make more changes? Since the topic wasn’t even on the agenda (from my understanding – I had another commitment and couldn’t attend) for the most recent council meeting last week, I guess they have cast their die.

Which brings me up to another one of my pet peeves with some of the opposition. While I disagree with some aspects of this whole saga, people who think council is doing this to benefit themselves are just insane. I have seen comments and allusions to “fat cats” and things like that, I even saw one person equate council’s plan to theft and encouraged people to bring guns to meetings, which is simultaneously scary and absurd.

We need to have conversations, not threats. We need to see all the numbers, not simply trust percentages. We need to make tougher decisions than the ones already made, just like the teachers in Hanover did this year when they re-opened their contract to slow salary growth and Penn Township staff did last year when they deferred raises.

But most of all, we need to do this before the Dec. 26 meeting when the borough will adopt the budget. The timing is not completely a ruse to try and keep the public from weighing in – it is when council typically meets and budgets are approved this time of year (Penn will vote tomorrow) – but the delay of releasing salary figures until tomorrow when that ordinance is drafted at the committee level with all of the budget work pretty much completed does make it harder to move. I’m sure the committee understands (and I know they have worked very hard) what those dollar figures are, but there’s no need to keep others from using that information to  try and come up with new ideas.

So I’m not saying that the group planning on showing up next week should not get involved. They just may have missed a better opportunity to make a difference by not coming last week. They also should be there tomorrow during the finance committee meeting (I again have another commitment and can’t make it). This issue first came up on Nov. 13, and the paper covered it then. I first wrote about it on Nov. 28. The time to affect change is, unfortunately, not Dec. 26.

I hope I’m wrong and council members use the next week to put further pressure on Krebs to make more changes, including significant consideration at trimming or eliminating raises and/or longevity bonuses for administrative staff, particularly those who received significant hikes last year. But I don’t hold out a lot of hope.

24 people are talking about “Boro Budget Heats Up

  1. You say it only averages $250 for most property owners/ Well, if you continue to get other things that take approach soon you don’t have anything left in your monthly income. I was just notified by my health insurance company, that I pay because I am retired and not eligble for Medicare, that those premiums will go up $45 per month. Only a 10% increase, but they have had a 10 % increase each of the last four years. That makes my initial premium of $395 a month now $518 a month, but hey it is only a 10% increase. I have written to the Pennsylvania Department of Insurance and have actually heard back from them that they will investigate. All I am saying if we continue to say it is only X, that is suppose to make if more palatable. Just like gas. When the news over the years touts it will go to $4-5/gallon, then we are suppose to be happy when it settles at $3.50.

    • I don’t mean to use the dollar figure to minimize it. I use it to give real perspective. For some people, $250 is a huge amount. For some, it is not. Using the percentage doesn’t give that perspective. Also, using the dollar figure can help point out exactly how much the increase can be mitigated when we get all the numbers. Percentages are much more misleading than the actual figures. We should be talking dollars, not percentages, to learn the real impact. When they say admin staff are only getting 2.5 or 3 percent raises, it can seem like they are not that big. But put them in dollar figures and add them to the longevity bonuses and see how much of the $30 million budget that represents, and we can get a clearer picture.

      As I wrote, “The hike is not good and may significantly affect some people.” I’m not trying to make it more palatable, just to put it in terms people can figure out compared to their own situation.
      Additionally, the $250 is not for “most property owners.” It’s for the average assessed value.

  2. Once again, Brian, thanks for your blog. Whether I agree every time or not, as I’ve said before, I always enjoy your writings!

    I hope you’ll allow me to “vent” a bit on one point which you brought out…

    “The group” who generated the above mentioned letter “missed the boat”, in every way possible.
    No matter where your opinion falls on this issue (and we all know it’s not as simple as a yea or nay)…one absolute necessary is accurate information and an ability to refer back to a source.

    The “flyer” circulated offered neither. It was all for shock value, reminiscent of a poster for a c-grade slasher film. It also featured NO contact info or an offering of any sort of source for the “info” contained in it, which leads me to believe that said source is someone who wants to level bogus accusations and for whatever reason, hide their identity.
    Perhaps this flyer came from the same “source” who (as you mentioned originally) suggested that bringing guns to a council meeting to try to make a point, would be a good idea?

    Bottom line is, here you have a “document” which has made lots of charges, contained very few facts, played fast and loose with the pieces of fact it bothered to use…and was ANONYMOUS. It was worthy of the treatment it got a my neighbor’s house…a deposit into the “circular file”. If it’s not something you’d put your name on…it’s not worth the paper it’s printed on.
    When I leave materials for people to read, they have my name on ’em…in LARGE PRINT.

    What I really hate about this sort of thing (as you have pointed out) is, there’s NO ATTEMPT to get together and offer suggestions and get the real info. It’s immediately this “US vs.THEM” thing…it’s that modern-media-made sort of mentality where you just assume that everybody’s out to get you and we have to FIGHT…right now.
    This flyer offered NO IDEAS to make things better, nor did I get the idea that those behind it, had anything to offer to the process. And the answer to the budget is obviously not just “forget it”.
    I keep saying, this ain’t DC or even Harrisburg…it’s Hanover.
    The people on Council are just Hanover people, of all stripes. If you want to talk, you can get the info/conversation you’re after…most times, we can get things together…but sometimes you may hear opinions that you may not want to hear.

    When you come out of the gate with that FIGHT! mentality, calling people crooks, corrupt, fact cats, etc…could you blame folks for telling you to pound sand?

    Thanks for letting me vent on your forum, Brian.

  3. Perhaps a name wasn’t used to avoid the borough’s redundant/ridiculous sign fees for a permit and the $25 fine that would follow for each sign hung if such said permit was not obtained.

  4. And perhaps if the citizens of the borough were notified of this sooner they would have a viable solution or alternative to offer…but they shouldn’t have to…that’s why we elect the councilmen.

    • The budget process is on the same timeline, for the most part, and all meetings are advertised.

      Personally, I don’t have a problem with the sign ordinance since its intention is to keep randomly placed flyers from appearing everywhere.

  5. Property tax isn’t just theft…it’s extortion. You pay some, or you pay it all… you pay, or lose your property. Period. It is not my, or anyone else’s, fault that the borough council finds it impossible to live within their means. It isn’t our fault that the council finds it impossible to live up to their fiduciary responsibility. We individuals make tough decisions and tough cuts in difficult economic times, what on earth makes bureaocrats think they shouldn’t, and don’t, have to do the same? The economic climate in this country, state, and borough, is utterly shameful and disgusting. We are becoming quite sick of being financially raped by these leeches.

  6. Brian, I don’t always agree with what you write but I thought this article was good as you were looking at both sides of the problem. My response to the taxes of other municipalities, well I don’t live in the other municipality and really don’t care what they do or don’t do. If we live in Hanover lets deal with Hanover and keep it a better place to live. School taxes have nothing to do with local taxes so again that’s a different subject with me as I don’t mind paying a local tax it at least does something for me. I have been paying school tax for twenty years without a child in the system. In response to Hanover’s tax issue, do people think that this is just something that popped up? If anyone does they are fools. This situation has probably been bad for a few years and like other municipalities Hanover robbed money from reserves to balance budgets and it caught up. They like everyone else thought the economy would change and it didn’t. We blame this on present management and Council when this problem existed under previous Council and management. I am not indicating I like paying more taxes but do not totally lay blame on present personnel. Did anyone ever draw funds from their savings accounts to pay bills, same story with government and reserves We than have a Council person that wants to act like they don’t agree or better yet put the “stupid act” on. As soon as taxes go up citizens want to complain about the employees making to much, raises, pensions, insurance and wage freezes. In previously working for a small town I can tell you this is State and Federal pensions and benefits. Wage freezes everyone says, is that the answer? If you freeze the wages the middle class people will spend less, put less into the economy and than what, it puts us where we are today. Employers are using the wage freezes on employees many as an excuse. Per news articles Mr. Moul attended the building and my opinion there is Mr. Dan Moul is for Mr. Dan Moul, but he did say with insurance, electric, gas and other expenses going up why are we raising taxes. I think he answered his own question or doesn’t Mr. Moul know municipalities have to pay the same increases with the same or less income from property taxes. Doesn’t business raise their prices when their expenses go up? Sorry to ramble on but lets look at both sides of the issue before making unnecessary accusations and that can only be done by reviewing the budget and become part of your local government by taking more interest in it other than when taxes are raised and also perhaps volunteer in the community of Hanover.

    • I have absolutely no clue what you are talking about. I haven’t “censored” anything. I merely hold comments for approval to weed out spambots. But if you like living your life intent on blaming someone for everything, knock yourself out.

  7. I personally have made several suggestions! There are 4 fire departments in the borough…almost every other municipality of a similar size in the country does just fine with 1. Get rid of three. Police are also not engaging in many high speed chases in the borough, so why exactly did they need to upgrade to a whole new fleet of high performance Dodges? Sure, police and fire are essentials, but it is as easy to find out of control, redundant, and wasteful spending there as well.

    • Where are there four fire departments? Everything is now consolidated at Wirt and Clearview.

      And every conversation I have ever had with anyone regarding police cars comes down to one thing: mileage. It’s not about high-speed chases, it’s about rotating cars to make sure they aren’t breaking down. I know past practices have been to retire police cars for other borough functions until they truly are not useful. Not sure if that still happens. Personally, I am willing to make sure the police department has new vehicles.

      • So, you are willing to run someone out of their house for the sake of the police department having the luxury of new vehicles? People should not be forced to pay for something, lose their houses, or have their quality of life reduced for something that is not necessity.

        • For me, every expenditure is not an attempt to “run someone out of their house” so it’s difficult to answer your question. I think through prudent planning, strong resource management and a coordinated effort by council and staff, things I find important – fire and police being two of them – can be accommodated in the budget without undue hardship for residents. I don’t see it as giving them “luxury vehicles.” To me, it’s a matter of making sure they don’t have to work with outdated equipment which might fail. Rotating the cars a few at a time is smart management to me.

  8. I have really enjoyed reading your blog. I noticed you said that every meeting is advertised, where? So many people including myself have had to give up their newspaper subscriptions and I would really like to get involved. Also, where and when are the budget committee meetings and can anyone go?

    • Meetings are also advertised on the borough’s clunky website (http://www.borough.hanover.pa.us/images/hanover/hbgov.html) and in the newsletter they periodically send out. I can understand if people give up newspaper subscriptions because of finances, but if you want to be informed of what goes on locally, there’s no better way than to read the paper. This issue was first written about in mid-November (and maybe even earlier). If people give up the paper because they don’t like their political stance or something, they are only hurting themselves. It’s still a good paper (I’m not an employee) and can keep you up-to-date on these issues whether you get it delivered, read it at the library, access it online or just pick it up once in a while.

Leave a Reply