Boro Budget Heats Up
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.