Department heads got their first look at Forks Township’s projections for next year’s budget Thursday, and the board of supervisors warned it will be the first step in a painful process that will probably entail staff reductions, spending cutbacks and higher taxes.
The township wants to cut at least three positions, said board chairman Erik Chuss, and to find a way out of a mountain of debt, estimated at about $900,000 a year, that lies ahead over the next seven years to replace aging township equipment, including police cars and a fire truck that must be replaced by state law in seven years.
The fire truck alone costs more than $2 million. It is 18 years old and it faces mandatory replacement under state law when it is 25 years old.
“We’re facing big deficits over seven years,” Chuss said. Along with a tide of red ink, the township is looking for more revenue.
“We are looking at tax increases, possibly over two years,” Chuss said.
The rumors of staffing cuts have been swirling through the township’s staffs for weeks, and at a conference meeting Thursday night the supervisors said their options are increasingly limited.
“Next year will be our most painful year,” said supervisor John O’Neil. “This was not created overnight.”
Chuss said “big mistakes” were made by previous boards.
“Unfortunately everyone in this room is struck trying to solve it,” Chuss said. “We’ve got to clear up the mess, and got to get this thing back on track.”
Though Chuss did not identify in public the mistakes he was referring to, he said after the meeting that previous boards left the current board with what amounts to a balloon mortgage, the kind that lets homeowners pay little in the early years, only to be slapped with significantly larger payments down the road.
Many economists attribute that kind of financing as a key ingredient in the collapse of the housing market, which triggered the Great Recession.
The township has until the end of December to pass a new budget, which is tentatively projected to be about $8.1 million.