Budget Cuts . . . Difficult Decisions, Particularly the Berwyn, Paoli & Radnor Fire Company

I am concerned about how the Board of Supervisors will ultimately make the difficult decisions required for this 2010 budget. I have received numerous phone calls and emails from people all weighing on in what they think is fair; or in some cases, stating what they think is unfair about the proposed budget.  There has been an overwhelming level of support for the reinstatement of the Fire Company’s 5% cut in the township budget.  The specific dollar amount to be cut in the 2010 proposed budget to the individual fire companies is as follows:

Radnor: $1,160
Paoli: $6,077
Berwyn: $14,073

There has been much discussion about the fact that the proposed township budget only cuts the fire company contribution by 5% versus higher percentage budget cuts proposed in other areas, such as library, township staff, police, etc.  It needs to be said that unlike paid personnel, the fire companies are staffed almost exclusively by  volunteers, whether it is the firefighters, local professionals who donate their professional services pro bono, etc.  We need to understand the value of these volunteer services.  The real cost to maintain full-time fire and emergency services in Tredyffrin is estimated to be $7-12 million per year.  Interesting on the Main Line Surburban site, there is an online poll where you are asked whether you think that the fire companies should be tax-supported; 85% of the voters said yes.  The community can’t help but make this an emotional discussion.  We have young men and women putting their lives on the line for this community, and  at what price? Is it possible to look at this subject without emotion (and without using the fireworks remaining in the budget argument, which I am guilty of) and I think we can try.

I would like to make a suggestion to the 3 fire companies which might help the public better understand.  If they can email me a copy of their 2010 budgets with line item expenditures and revenue sources (or direct me to a link) I would be happy to post the information on this site.  If possible, it would be interesting if each fire company could provide a statement as to what this proposed reduction will mean to their specific operations.  In other words, if the 5% cut is not reinstated in the township budget, specifically what changes will be required of each fire company.  We believe that the state is cutting their fire company contributions by an additional 9-10%, please include that reduction in your statement for what this means to the overall operation of the Fire Department.  If this information is provided to me at pattye@greatvalleyhouse.com , I am willing to post it.  A statement from Radnor, Berwyn and Paoli Fire Companies will help make this a financial argument (rather than an emotional argument) for the reinstatement of the proposed budget cuts.  So, if the fire company representatives are reading this blog, I look forward to hearing from you.  There is another Board of Supervisor Meeting scheduled for Monday, December 7 — let’s get this information out there before then.

In an attempt to be fair, others in the community are equally concerned about the proposed budget cuts for the library – layoff of staff, shortening of hours, decrease of services.  How do you feel about the library situation?  I for one, do not feel that closing Paoli Library for a day during the week but opening it on Sundays afternoon does anything to improve the situation.  The Paoli Library has never been open on Sundays so doesn’t that create a set-up for possible decrease (rather than increase) of demand with this option?  Why not shorten the hours of operation during the week -maybe delay the opening an hour or closing an hour early?  With either of those scenerios, you save the library 5 hours which is equivalent to what you gain by opening on Sundays.  To me this makes a whole lot more sense.  People are used to the Paoli Library being opened Monday-Saturday and closed on Sundays.  A shortened day is easier to adjust to than closure all day (particularly if the net budget gain is the same).  I’d love to hear from some of the Library Board members about your thoughts on the proposed budget cuts.  Either comment directly here, or if you prefer to write a formal statement, email it to me and I would be happy to post it.  How will the Library make some of these difficult decisions required by the proposed budget cuts? 

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13 Responses

  1. Pattye,
    The Berwyn Fire Company is currently working on a very similar piece of information as to what you are looking for. This information has been provided in various forms to the supervisors as well as reported at board meetings over the past but a consolidated statement will make it easier for residents to reference. Please allow us a few days to complete this and we will certainly provide it to you and any others interested as well as post it on our website (www.berwynfirecompany.org). Correct information and public debate on this issue will only benefit the community that we strive to serve 24/7/365.

    Respectfully,
    Matthew S. Valocchi
    Berwyn Fire Co EMS Captain

    • I think that is great! Thank you Berwyn Fire Company – here’s hoping that Radnor & Paoli will consider the same. You are right – the public needs to the correct information which can only help us all better understand the issues. Thanks!

  2. Good points Pattye. What is required is some out of the box/creative thinking. I have long said that in times like this, you find out who is really good. It is easy to look good when times are good.

    I think what we are seeing is that are township is being run by folks, when challenged by circumstance, cannot think out of the box.

    It could be that the “gold standard” is really only gold in color – backed up by tin foil….

    • You are right — these difficult times do require the ‘thinking outside the box’ type of ideas. Let’s explore that possibility . . . remember, I’m still the person who believes that Earned Income Tax (EIT) needs an open, public discussion and thorough understanding of the concept. Let’s not forget that the township is already leaving $3 million on the table in EIT being paid to other municipalities. Again, I’m all for the ‘thinking outside the box’ ideas.

  3. Look forward to more information from the fire companies to better understand their challenges – thank you.

    Hmmm … the “township is being run by folks, when challenged by circumstance, cannot think out of the box”? In the current challenging circumstance, the overall 2009 township budget is running $1.5 million BETTER than expected. The 2010 budget is expected to be BALANCED with NO tax increase or use of reserves. They have identified and implemented close to 100 specific improvements to better use resources, while maintaining or improving service. Reasonable people can disagree, and in fact do disagree, about the Fire Companies, Paoli Library hours and St. Davids sidewalks – these were the only specific issues I heard at Monday’s BOS meeting and they represent less than .3% of the total budget. That should not detract from the exceptional job done by Tredyffrin management, staff, BAWG, and BOS in moving quickly and creatively to address our financial challenges.

    For comparison, I suggest looking at Easttown and Radnor – big deficits projected in ’09 and ’10, major tax increases, and drawing down reserves that will jeopardize their bond ratings. BTW, they’re thinking about putting together Citizen’s Budget Committees.

    BTW, the EIT was studied extensively, including at least two open, public hearings at VF Middle School, in 2006 and summarily rejected. As for “leaving $3 million on the table”, can you say “beggar thy neighbor”? Should we enrich ourselves by taking money from neighboring municipalities?

    • Mike – you are right that reasonable people can agree to disagree. Once again, the issue that I had with the BAWG report was not about anything but the St. Davids Golf Club’s offer of $50K. There was no offer that anyone could point to as ‘real’ (whether it was BAWG members or the supervisors); and if there was indeed an offer, than the acceptance of it would usurp the authority of our Planning Commission. Based on principal I called for its removal; it should not have been considered an available revenue source.

      On the other hand, EIT is an available revenue source and I would encourage that it be thoroughly looked at. In 2005, I know that the School Board rejected the suggestion as did the vote in the public referendum. Economically, we are in a far worse economic situation 4 years later and we need to look at all sources of revenue. Personally, I don’t want to pay any more in taxes. My husband is still employed (Unisys) and and I own a small business — it’s not like we’re retired and we would not be affected. As for us enriching our neighbors. . . it’s Tredyffrin taxpayers money that is going to these other municipalities. We’re already paying it out and have been for years. Potentially the dollar amount to the Township, according to Dave Brill could be as high as $8 million. Again, just would like to see a public information meeting with a 3rd party expert (as Easttown Twp did) so that everyone understands the facts of EIT. Thank you Mike for your comments – I like that this forum can create dialogue in a respectful way.

  4. Pattye: I think your post and request are right on! Thanks to Berwyn for the quick response. Perhaps, too, beyond the fire company and library issues, you could ask for Surrey Services to estimate how they will be impacted by the proposed township contribution reductions.

    I know first hand how non-profit funding is being affected these days and how critical it is to explore every avenue for efficiencies. There’s usually yet more reliance on volunteers.

    Thank you for providing this independent and objective forum. I’m looking forward to the eventual discussion of the Township’s long term funding needs and options.

    • Ray –
      Thanks. I actually have a call in to Surrey Services. One of their directors, Caroline Metz is a friend and I intend to ask her the same questions as I have put to the Fire Company and Library.

  5. Pattye
    Lets not make this more complicated then it is. This is a question of priorities. Fund the 5% for the Fire Fighters or fund the Fireworks. To me thats a no brainer as public safety should be the #1 thing that is protected as far as funding and the responsibility of government. There is for me anyways no reasonable arguement to be made to defend funding fireworks over Fire Fighters. The sup’s better wake up and get this one right.

  6. Pattye:

    Thank you for your respectful, reasoned response. Actually, the most recent EIT study was done in 2006 – looking at archived minutes, it appears that one of the hearings was 12/4/06 – three years ago today. I attended both public hearings at VF Middle School where extensive analysis by the Study Commission and outside experts was reviewed, and there was much public comment, overwhelmingly against the EIT. Somewhat surprisingly, the retired population (with no earned income) was evenly split between those for and against. Among the objections to EIT (at least those that I can recall) were:

    – Compliance: collection rates are often around 50%, especially in the early years. The Township would likely get much less than expected by simply applying a tax rate to the aggregate earned income in the Township.

    – Privacy: folks were very opposed to local Township employees knowing how much they make!

    – Does anyone want to file another tax return?

    – Changing the rules: we all moved into the township knowing that the revenues would be raised through real estate taxes – now they propose to change the rules.

    – Competitiveness: the absence of an EIT makes our Township attractive for homeowners and businesses, thus helping our property values and local commerce and employment.

    – Renters: they don’t pay taxes directly, although their landlords do and it helps make their rental properties more appealing.

    – Cyclicality – this is a BIG one, especially now. Can you imagine if even more of the Township’s revenue was tied to the economic cycle?!
    It’s a challenge to plan and manage with the real estate transfer tax, the “swings” would be multiplied with an EIT. There was discussion of large aerospace layoffs in the ’60s, and of course that was “ancient history”. We are seeing similar issues with Wyeth and of course, the economy at large. Unemployment is way up in our Township and many taxpayer’s earnings are down from smaller bonuses, fewer hours and lower wages. Can we really count on the illusory $8 million?

    That’s it for now.

  7. Pattye:

    This thread is evolving into a good discussion of the pros and cons of an EIT – perhaps you should start a new topic, because I think it could be a long discussion with many points on both sides!

    I’ll start with a few quotes from the 2006 Tax Study Commission report.

    The TSC famed its analysis in terms of imposing a personal income tax (PIT) in order to reduce property taxes. The TSC favored a PIT over an Earned Income Tax (EIT) “largely because of our perception that the PIT is a more fair an equitable means of taxing income”. Particular classes of resident discussed were senior citizens (favored by an EIT) and renters (favored by an PIT).

    This choice by the TSC brought into play the high collection costs and low collection effectiveness associated with a PIT, versus an EIT that “is straight-forward and would require a simple two line tax form”. (It’s not clear why Township employees would have any access to an individual’s tax return.)

    “It should be pointed out that either a PIT or EIT offers a high probability of increasing revenues coming into the District without the need for increases in actual tax rates or assessments.”

    “….in a significant number of households in our district at least one working member is currently paying an EIT from which neither the household member not our community receives any benefit.”

    “Had we been presented with compelling funding needs by the School Board that could not be satisfied by our present system we may well have endorsed a change in the manner our schools are funded.” Right now, the School Board is looking at an 8% tax increase, leading to a tax rate that has increased around 50% this decade. That certainly changes the financial equation faced by people thinking of moving into the district. Perhaps we are now facing “compelling funding needs”?

    Which brings us to the current BAWG survey, 341 respondents favor an EIT nearly 2:1:
    “In order to balance the Township’s budget, Tredyffrin township should
    Impose an EIT: Agree/Strongly Agree: 19%
    Increase real estate taxes: Agree/Strongly Agree: 10%”

    Certainly enough arguments on both sides of this issue to revisit it in the light of today’s conditions, it seems to me.

  8. I agree Ray — you and Mike of Berwyn are making some reasoned arguments re EIT. Good discussion of the topic, from both sides. Once we get through the township budget discussion, let’s really get this discussion going. I would like to explore Mike’s comment about EIT in the face of rising unemployment in the community. He may be correct about the estimated $8M from EIT collection may not be accurate under these new unemployment conditions. Thank you for for your comments.

  9. I received the following comment from Yolanda Van De Krol and she OK’d its posting:

    Pattye,

    The decision to close Paoli Library on Tuesdays and open on Sundays results from the Board’s attempt to shorten hours due to budgetary constraints AND to better serve the public by opening on a day when we expect more patrons can make use of the facility.

    Many libraries are open on Sundays to accommodate people at school and/or work during the work week. While Saturday hours help, Sundays add even more flexibility. The new hours should better reflect the needs of the community. If, on the other hand, we find that Sundays are slow, we will re-work the hours to meet public demand.

    Yolanda Van De Krol
    President
    Libraries Board

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