Bethlehem Press

Thursday, December 12, 2019
press photo by amit karFountain Hill Police Chief Edward Bachert with newly sworn-in part-time officer Isaac Jimenez. The new officer is a former U.S. Marine. press photo by amit karFountain Hill Police Chief Edward Bachert with newly sworn-in part-time officer Isaac Jimenez. The new officer is a former U.S. Marine.

Council welcomes part-time officer

Tuesday, August 6, 2019 by Amit Kar Special to the Bethlehem Press in Local News

Mayor Carolee Gifford and Police Chief Ed Bachert, amid cheers and congratulations of family and friends, swore in Isaac Jimenez, a Marine veteran, as a new part-time police officer for Fountain Hill Borough July 24.

Discussions indicated that the borough faces not an insignificant amount of turnover of its relatively small police department, requiring frequent hiring. Concerns about maintaining an adequate force to keep the borough self-reliant on public safety, albeit with a strain on the budget, without having to depend on the state police were underscored by the police pension plan presentation that followed.

An in-depth review of the current state of the Fountain Hill Borough’s police pension plan was presented by Colleen Deer, actuarial and consulting business unit president of the Mockenhaupt Benefits Group.

Deer’s presentation focused on actuarial analysis that showed how much money would be needed to support post-retirement benefits of the borough’s police for pay out for the rest of their lives. This recognizes a pension service cost, or the present value of the projected retirement benefits earned by plan participants in the current period. Police (employee) contributions are supplemented by an amount that must be set aside in the current period to match the retirement benefits accrued by plan participants. The retirement fund assets, invested in various portfolios for growth, often lose value due to inflation, market downturns, etc., and pose challenges to ensure adequacy of fund availability to service the pensions as and when the employees retire.

Challenges occur when the actuarial liability, which is the value of benefits already earned, exceeds the value of the assets in the pension trust fund, causing the liability to be unfunded. There are indications that such a situation may exist, and further exacerbated by five out of 10 plan participants being disabled. Deer pointed out that disabled retirement causes financial difficulties, since disability retirement benefits have a negative impact on the plan. Further, generally with improved all-round longevity, more money is needed, which probably prompted the contribution increases from 5 percent to 8 percent some years back.

Councilors expressed concern about maintaining an adequate police force and agreed that scrutiny of borough fund use is necessary. The current unfunded liability with an amortization would call for an annual payment of $215,000 over a 12-year period. Unless other costs were contained, this would clearly pose a financial difficulty. Continually raising taxes would not be a welcome panacea. Even pulling support of amenities such as the swimming pool and library, may not meet the cost of even one police officer. Executive Administrator Anthony Branco requested aid and the Pennsylvania State Police agreed to send one lieutenant for support. However, it was pointed out that there might be priority conflicts, such as an accident or criminal activity on or around Route 22 versus a fender-bender on Broad Street, that may prevent the presence of a state police force whose budget has been slashed by $218 million. St. Luke’s Hospital, with high police usage, may be asked to weigh in on this.

A resolution passed for the request of a Multi-modal Transportation Fund grant of $1.64 million from the Commonwealth of Pa. Financing Authority for fixing curbs and sidewalks along Broadway (SR 2002).

The discussion for action on one bid of $215,000 received for sale of the Hosey property on 1336 Russell Ave. was contentious. Council members expressed concern about the proposed new senior citizen center of 18 units, because of the additional sewage and garbage disposal challenge this might present.

While reopening might attract new bids, it was pointed out that the current bidder could rebid with a lower amount, thus potentially reducing the proceeds of the sale. For a property that cost $70,000, with no encumbrances, the profit potential could help defray other (unavoidable) expenses. The motion to accept the bid eventually passed.

The motion for a Storm Water Authority Ordinance passed despite some initial resistance.