It’s an elementary lesson. The dark romance of spending money you can’t afford may give you a thrilling jolt but eventually leaves you just jolted.
That’s not quite the case before Salisbury Township’s Board of Supervisors in the final weeks that remain in the calendar year 2012, but after Thursday night’s meeting and subsequent workshop session it is evident the township at some point has to change their ways or go broke.
Township Manager Randy Soriano presented a 2013 budget that is facing a $282,308 shortfall, doesn’t address additional manpower requested in the township’s police force and does not raise taxes on township residents.
The budget proposed plans to take care of the shortfall through what is still a healthy fund balance – around $3 million according to Soriano – so no crisis is eminent. And yet…
“We can’t do this forever,” Soriano told supervisors. Later pressed on how long this taking money out of the piggy bank can go on for, Soriano dithered and clarified many facts before uttering about five years.
And the facts support that statement. For example the township has dipped into their prodigious coffers each of the last three years, burning through $3.2 million just to meet operational expenses and not raise taxes. Certainly the money is there to do that again this year without breaking too much of a sweat.
However the township is not heading on the right track. For example revenues continue to stagnate and ferment with little realistic hope that trend will reverse itself in the next year. In addition the proposed budget does not address a request the possible addition of two police officers, which could cost the township another $100,000 if approved.
That noted the proposed budget does include the hiring to two public works employees, although in all truth not filling the positions are almost not an option, considering the department has been decimated with four employees retiring just this year alone, Soriano.
Another fissure that will require immediate attention, according to Soriano, is the budget’s Fire Fund, which is currently $24,800 in the hole.
“This has to be addressed,” Soriano told the board.
After the conclusion of the meeting four of the five members – President James Brown was absent – held a workshop session noted more for a lack of focus than any real vision or answers to the issues.
If any clarity emerged from the discussion employees' benefits clearly annoyed Commissioner Joanne Ackerman, who said their benefits package was “outrageous” and “out of date” for the current economic realities.
Pressing the issue further, Soriano noted that non-union township staff contribute 5 percent annually to their health care costs, while public works employees pay in just 2.5 percent.
And despite the township shortfall, employees will still receive a pay hike next year in the proposed budget.
It should also be noted the township’s 2012 tax rate is a paltry 3.09 mills, among the lowest in the Lehigh Valley, Soriano said at one point. So raising taxes is still not out of the question.
While board members engaged Soriano in a mind-numbing discourse on a bevy of line item questions, the real questions are actually pretty simple.
Is the board going to make up the shortfall from their saving account, cut expenses or raise taxes?
Devoid of any innovative ideas popping into their heads in the next few weeks, that’s what’s on the table.
Commissioners will take up the discussion again at their November 29th meeting. A budget must be passed by their December 27th meeting.