18 October 2021 Board of Supervisors Meeting
The following are highlights of the October 18, 2021, Newtown Township Board of Supervisors (BOS) meeting.
Summary of the 2022 Budget Presentation
On October 18, 2021, Newtown Township Manager, Micah Lewis, presented his DRAFT 2022 budget to the Board of Supervisors (BOS). This was a public in-person meeting attended by all the department heads, Fire Chief, and Police Chief.
Mr. Lewis's presentation summarized the major budget items. The unedited presentation is embedded at the end of this post. You can download the PDF version here. View the 1.5 hour video archive of the meeting.
The Supervisors were able to ask questions as well as the public although there were only a handful of residents in attendance. The following is my personal summary of the meeting focusing on the questions that I asked. See the end of this post for public comments and more questions.
2022 Budget Highlights
- Total revenues: $13,193,088 (vs $12,722,257 in the 2021 budget; there is an estimated fund balance forward amount of $2,995,785, for a projected total of $16,188,873 available in 2022); Total expenditures: $14,554,818 (vs $13,811,834 in the 2021 budget); Net fund balance: $1,634,055 (11% of expenditures vs 20% projected for 2021)
- Completion of the Lower Dolington Road Trail (see "Park/Trails Improvements").
- Addition of one full time Police Officer (see "A Growing Township Staff").
- Addition of one full time Deputy Fire Chief (see "A Growing Township Staff") and a new Fire Chief’s Vehicle.
- Purchase of three police patrol vehicles. Financed purchase of two public works utility vehicles, and one Parks and Recreation pickup truck.
- Consultant to provide part-time Zoning & Code Enforcement Services.
- Financed purchase of police body cameras, and the financed purchase of updated police records management system (CODY).
- Financed purchase of software to support Finance, Codes & Zoning, & Administration to offset aging and obsolete infrastructure.
- Police Department Facilities Study to assess current and future building needs (see "Police Department Facilities Study").
- 3.11 miles of road work expected, not including additional alternates (see "Road Repairs").
- Tax increase of 1.5 mills proposed in the Fire Protection Fund.
With the additional 1.5 mills dedicated to the Fire Protection Fund, township residents will see a 17% increase in real estate taxes in 2022 (8.49 millage increases to 9.99).
Expenditures are budgeted to rise by 5.37% to $14,554,818. Expenditures are largely driven by personnel related costs, operational expenses, and one-time capital purchases. Salary increases for at-will and bargaining employees are budgeted at 3%.
I asked why Fire Chief Glenn Forsyth wishes to hire a Deputy Fire Chief at a cost of about $75,000 per year. Why is this necessary when the township has already increased the Chief’s salary by 8% in 2021 precisely because of his new responsibilities managing BOTH Newtown Emergency Services Department (NESD; paid firefighters) and the volunteer Newtown Fire Association (NFA)?
Some numbers from page 14 of the DRAFT budget under "FIRE PROTECTION":
- Management Salaries: $158,740 vs $108,000 (2021) – diff = $50,740: a 47% increase
- NFA Contribution: $330,000 vs $160,000 (2021) – diff = $170,000: a 106% increase
I also asked Mr. Lewis to explain the proposed 2022 road repaving program. Only about 3.5 miles of road may be repaved in 2022. That's not enough to get ahead and decrease the percentage of roads in need of repair.
One of the roads I had in mind when I asked my question was Wexley Drive in the Country Bend Development where I live. I and many other people travel on this road every day!
This stretch of road has many old patches and cracks, but it is NOT on Newtown Township's 2022 Road Repair Program! There are many more sections of roads like this is Newtown.
I asked Mr. Lewis about using some of the over $1 million in American Rescue Plan (ARP) money Newtown has sitting in a bank account to pay for some specific budget items, such as the Rescue Squad (Newtown Ambulance Squad), for example. The budget is not showing any increase for the squad in 2022.
Another possible use of the fund is improving the video/sound equipment in the meeting room. Video Gold - the consultants who manage the meeting room audio/visual technology - recently informed supervisors via email that the township's video booth equipment is aging. That equipment includes some 32 + components of different origin and manufacture, not including the equipment that is installed in the meeting room - Microphones, PA system with cameras and TV monitors, “some of which is 15-20 years or more in age,” according to Video Gold.
Parks and Recreation (P&R) Director Megan Prusienski gave a report on P&R the impact of COVID-19 on P&R income and her plans for going forward. This was the first time Ms. Prusienski appeared before the Board of Supervisors since she was hired in April, 2021.
Mr. Lewis answered my questions about “Park Improvement” items in the draft 2022 budget. It appears that in 2020 and 2021 none of the money in this line item was spent. Some numbers from page 23 of the DRAFT budget under "PARK IMPROVEMENTS – Trail Extensions":
- 2021 budget = $550,000
- 2020 budget = $922,000
- 2022 budget = $550,000
Finally, I asked Police Chief John Hearn to explain the need for a $20,000 Police Building Facility Study. Recall that the Chief proposed this study for the 2021 budget, but it was nixed by the BOS as part of an effort to lower the tax increase (read "Final 2021 Newtown Township Budget Approved!").
Jan Filios and Peter Gilles – Environmental Advisory Council members – made comments supporting the purchase of electric vehicles and upgrading streetlights to modern LED technology. Ms. Filios listed the many benefits of LED streetlights and also supported the township’s efforts to charge Newtown Borough for fire services provided by the township’s paid firefighters.
Recall that at the October 13, 2022, BOS meeting, Mr. Lewis agreed to contact Keystone Lighting Consultants about participating in the DVRPC third phase of the funding program. When asked if that was done, Mr. Lewis indicated that he instructed the township engineer todo that but would not commit to having a report from them at the upcoming October 27, 2021, Regular BOS meeting.
Mr. Lewis released the DRAFT budget to the supervisors at the close of business on Friday, October 15, 2021. Consequently, given that the some supervisors were busy running for re-election and/or being with their families over the weekend, we did not have a lot of time to prepare for this meeting. To better prepare for this meeting, I hosted a Meet Mack Monday Zoom meeting with residents at 5 PM just prior to the BOS meeting. I also received some questions submitted by residents. The following is just a sample of the questions yet to be asked and answered:
Earned Income Tax Revenue
Earned Income Taxes- Resident (page 1 of the draft 2022 budget) - Can you explain what happened in 2021 with Earned Income Taxes-Resident? The 2021 year-end estimate is $4,750,000 while the 2020 actual was $4,741,449. Why is Earned Income Taxes-Resident, not expected to grow in 2022?
- 2020 Actual was $2,173,951
- 2021 Budget and Actual are $2,000,000
- 2022 Budget is $2,000,000
Cable Television Franchise Revenue
Why was Cable Television Franchise revenue below budget for both 2020 and 2021, and why do you believe it will be on budget for 2022?
- 2020 Budget and Estimate = $496,000 vs 2020 actual of $460,864
- 2021 Budget of $496,000 versus 2021 estimate of $444,120
- 2022 Budget is still $496,000
At the meeting, I suggested that Newtown Township should use some of this money to help pay for upgrading the video room equipment and implementing hybrid meetings. Other townships do this and have more modern equipment than does Newtown. Note that users of cable services get charged an extra fee each month to pay for this.
Contribution and Grants
There is nothing here other than Recycling Grant of $81,000. Why wasn’t there any other grant revenue in 2021? What are we doing in 2022 to change that?
Note that the new Assistant Manager was hired, in part, because of her grant writing expertise and with the hope that the township would increase the number of grant applications going forward. In fact, when I asked Fire Chief Forsythe whether there is need to improve the SAFER* grant application next year, he mentioned that he hopes to get help from the Assistant Manager to do that (see video above).
* The Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response Grant (SAFER) was created to provide funding directly to fire departments and volunteer firefighter interest organizations to help them increase or maintain the number of trained, "front line" firefighters available in their communities. The township applied for this grant in 2020 and 2021 and failed to qualify both times.
General Administration Communications
The budget shows an $8,500 increase for this item for a total of $28,000. Is this for audio-visual upgrades? Is there anything in the budget for hybrid zoom meetings? Because, as mentioned above, these upgrades are desperately needed!
Why is the 2022 budget $1.1 million more than the 2020 Actual and $800 thousand more than the 2021 year-end estimate?
Mr. Lewis recommended that the following schedule be considered for adoption:
- Adopt and authorize "Hanging"/advertising of the Preliminary 2022 Budget: November 10, 2021. After the budget is hung only limited changes can be made.
- Adopt Final 2022 Budget: December 8, 2021
This timeline can be altered at the Board of Supervisors’ direction.
Embedded below is the unedited PDF version of the Manager's presentation. You can also download the PDF file
Frank asked about the SAFER (Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response) grant application submitted by the township to FEMA on March 11, 2021. Unfortuantely, Newtown Twp was not on the list of awardees.
According to the Fire Chief's "2022 Newtown Emergency Services - Operational Proposal", this grant would have allowed the township to hire five (5) additional full time firefighters at a cost of $1.8 million dollars which would pay the cost of the firefighters for the years 2022, 2023, and 2024. This would have covered the cost of the firefighters for their salary and fringe benefits that were agreed to in the current Collective Bargaining Agreement with the Communications Workers of America Union.
Frank specifically asked if the grant included hiring a Deputy Fire Chief, which is something the Township Manager included in his recommended 2022 Budget. The grant application DOES mentioned that havin one extra firefighter per shift would allow the promotion of one of the current firefighters to the rank of Assistant/Deputy Chief of the Department.
Since the grant was not awarded, the Chief's Operational Proposal specifies the hiring of three (3) additional firefighters to provide the coverage needed for the seven (7) day a week coverage to assist with the lack of volunteers and it would guarantee a response to any emergency. With the new hires, the department would be able to promote one of the firefighters to the rank of Assistant/Deputy Chief of the Department.
"I wish I could say that the expense stops there but it does not," said the Chief, "we have not even started to discuss the purchase of fire apparatus, support vehicles, and the equipment that is needed to provide the best protection to the firefighter and to protect the life and property of the residents."
Police Hiring and New Police Vehicles
The Police Chief wants to purchase three police patrol vehicles in 2021 and hire one additional full-time officer. Terry suggested that the township pursue federal funds to pay for these. I noted that the township did get help from Sen. Steve Santarsiero who announced on June 4, 2021, the award of the $131,900 DCED grant for the purchase of the two police vehicles that were included in the 2021 budget.
Warren, a meeting registrant who could not attend the meeting, sent this comment after the meeting: "Can we challenge the police department to provide more statistics related to police performance? With a population of 23k and 31 officers on the books seems excessive."
There are currently 30 officers plus the Chief and one Lieutenant (32 total). One statistic that our Police Department has used to determine if they have an adequate number of officers is the number of residents per officer. The following table shows this statistic for Newtown and some surrounding townships.
Based on this alone, it would appear that Newtown currently has a sufficient number of police officers. The Chief, however, wishes to add one more officer in 2022.
"This department drives the taxes more than any other service provided and mostly responds to traffic violations, drunk drivers, fraud, and commercial/business theft calls," sais Warren. "I think the police should limit responses to 4 per business a year to deter abuse. We can't have officers visiting stores at the cost of $100's a call once you work in travel, talking to staff and writing reports only to have to visit the store within a month. I suggest that the department should instead provide a semi annual fraud/theft seminar available online(via youtube) vs responding to these calls which should be handled through theft prevention programs instituted by businesses.
"I live in a small town where nothing goes on we don't need an overstaffed police force doing make work functions, we should have a value for money audit to ensure we are not overstaffed and if that means cutting our service to [Wrightstown], so be it," said Warren.
Regarding providing polic services to Wrightstown, I noted at a BOS meeting some time ago that Wrightsown residents pay much less for a call from Newtown Police than do Newtown residents. The Chief and others, however, feel that the more than $800,000 we get from Wrightstown for police services would be put in jeopardy if we demanded more money because they could go to other neighboring polic departments to get coverage.
BTW, I was told that the contract with Wrightstown ends this year. I see that the 2022 budget already assumes a re-negotiated fee of $846,529 versus $808,218 - a $38,311 increase. The percent increase - 4.7% - is even less than the 4.9% increase from 2020 to 2021! In other words, we seem to anticipate negotiating a lower yearly increase ($1,300 less) than in the past! Why?
Frank mentioned that the 1.5 mill in new taxes proposed in the draft 2022 budget was not part of the October 2020 eConsult Study. eConsult's Recommended Scenario 3, specified that the Township add real estate tax in the amount of 7.25 mills to the General Fund in 2021, for a total millage of 11.75 across all funds in 2021 and beyond. The RE tax was raised only by 3.99 mills in 2021 (read "Final Newtown Township 2021 Budget Further Reduces Tax Increase"). So, technically, the township is not following this scenario, but raising taxes in smaller increments than recommeded by eConsult.
Increase Tax for Fire Protection Fund
Also discussed at this Meet Mack Monday was the $300,000 to be added to the Fire Protection Fund and given to the Newtown Fire Association (NFA) to help provide coverage on weekends. That money will come from the proposed 1.5 mill tax increase.
eConsult did not recommend a tax increase to cover this cost, but suggested that "township officials should require Newtown Borough to be responsible for 15 to 20 percent of the personnel costs for the full-time fire fighters, as well as the [fire] chief." The coinsultants proposed the following Newtown Borough payments for fire personnel, 2021-2025:
The township started discussions with the borough regarding this matter, but did not reach an agreement. The township decided to start billing the borough at the rate of of $25,000 a month for fire services retroactive to January 1, 2021 (read "Newtown Township Moves Forward With Plans to Assess Newtown Borough a Monthly Fee for Use of Its Paid Newtown Emergency Services Department").
DISCLAIMER: This is not an official Newtown Township meeting. It is hosted by Newtown Supervisor John Mack to learn more about issues of concern to Newtown Township residents and to share information. The opinions expressed at Meet Mack Monday events are solely those of John Mack and the attendees of the meeting