Ninth no-tax-hike budget in a row
When Hanover Township supervisors met Oct. 25, a brightly lit firetruck was parked nearby. There were no emergencies, but a volunteer firefighter was running tests on the township’s new 100-foot ladder truck. “We just put it into service last night,” he beamed. That truck came with a $1.2 million price tag.
Hanover Township just wrote a check. There was no line of credit or bond with accompanying debt service. In fact, the township has been debt-free for over a year.
Manager Jay Finnigan has an aversion to borrowing. He does something virtually unheard of in local government. He saves. He refuses to spend money until he actually has it. He also plans ahead for capital projects.
Once the meeting got underway, few were surprised when Treasurer Beth Bucko announced that there will be no tax hike next year. The spending plan next year, based on an $8.4 million general fund budget will keep taxes at the same level they’ve been for the previous eight years. The tax rate will remain at 3.9 mills, which includes a 0.5 mill fire tax. “We will be self-funding all of our projects,” said Bucko.
Three capital reserve funds (or savings accounts) exist for (1) vehicles and equipment; (2) road repairs; and (3) the community center. “We established these funds to prevent future funding issues that some local municipalities have had recently,” she said, in what appears to be a reference to Bethlehem Township’s problems with funding the Brodhead Road repaving project, as well as $2 million in repairs needed at the community center.
Chairman John N. Diacogiannis believes the township is in good financial shape because of work done over the past 15 years. He acknowledged that supervisors had concerns when Manager Jay Finnigan first proposed a 0.5 mill fire tax and establishing capital reserve funds, but it worked out very well. “We planned ahead, John,” added Steve Salvesen.
Finnigan said carving out the fire tax in 2006 has really paid off. Not only could the township afford a $1.2 million ladder truck, but it will be able to purchase an ambulance next year without borrowing. Avoiding finance costs and debt payments is what leads to a stable budget, he said.
In Northampton County, Executive John Brown has been following this approach in his past two budgets for capital projects like the purchase of the centralized human services building and a bridge-bundling project. But Northampton County’s debt is still over $100 million.
Finnigan’s fiscal conservatism was on full display when a resident asked about what impact the potential cessation of gaming grants will have.
“We do not budget for any type of grant revenue,” Finnigan said. “If it comes, we buy the thing it was destined to buy. Other municipalities use gaming revenue to at least help balance the budget. ... It does not affect our budget.”
He also acknowledged a road crew that is willing to switch hours so they can paint the community center after hours or who stripe roads at night to avoid inconveniencing the public.
“It’s not just the leadership. It’s the people in the trenches,” said Finnigan. “They are willing to adapt. They do things off the cuff.” That road crew operates under Public Works Director Vince Milite, who said he has “faith in his employees to do the job.”
Things look good at the community center too. Director Robert Cepin told supervisors. Over the past two years, he has cut expenses there by over $150,000. He has budgeted a five percent drop in revenue next year because of the anticipated opening of a new state-of-the-art fitness center that comes complete with an indoor pool.
The meeting usually concludes with a report from Finnigan. As people were antsy to get home to the baseball playoffs, the Red Sox fan began delivering an unusually long report, detailing street by street where leaf pick-up was occurring. Then he announced that Cleveland was up 2-0 and everyone could leave.