Thursday, November 18, 2010

Budget ax could mean police layoffs in Phoenixvile

By Dennis J. Wright,

PHOENIXVILLE — The borough's finance committee has asked the police department to trim its budget by $200,000, which could mean the potential loss of two officers.

Borough Council voted unanimously on Nov. 9 to release the proposed 2011 budget, which shows the potential for a 24.7 percent tax increase.

Roughly $619,000 needs to be generated or cut for the budget. If no cuts are made, that makes it nearly a 24.7 percent increase.

There was a lot of discussion during Tuesday's committee meeting as to how to put a dent into the $619,000 deficit.

Borough Council President Richard Mark Kirkner said that every department within the borough has been asked to cut at least 10 percent from their budgets.

"The streets, administration and finance departments have cut their budgets by 10 percent," Kirkner said.

"Some cut more than 10 percent. The streets department has six laborers and will only have five next year. We asked the police chief (William Mossman) for a 10 percent cut in his budget."

Mayor Leo Scoda informed Kirkner that the police department has gone through its budget as directed.

"We went through the budget but it doesn't match the 10 percent," Scoda said. "Personnel decisions have to be made by council."

Noting that there were six council members in attendance at the meeting, Kirkner reminded Scoda that they could make decisions at that moment.

"The police represent 60 percent of the general fund," he said. "There's a $620,000 hole here, and I'm not hearing something. We want the chief to come to us with the cuts."

Scoda responded to Kirkner: "We didn't have council tell us to make cuts. The mayor doesn't hire police. Council hires and fires police. If council decides not to fund the police department the way it should be, they have to make that decision."

At the beginning of the meeting, several audience members asked the committee to not consider any cuts in the police department.

This is the second straight meeting to which audience members have commented on potential police cuts.

Dana Dugan (D-West) told the audience, "I've heard people freak out about raising taxes and freak out about police cuts. I'm comfortable with raising taxes and making police cuts."

One audience member said to the committee that they weren't "freaking out" about raising taxes either, but would prefer not to see any losses in the police force.

Councilman Mike Speck (D-East) said to the audience, "I will not support a decrease in the police department."

Scoda told the committee about the importance of having part-time police officers in the department.

"The part-timers save us a lot of money," he said. "If you cut a full-timer, we can't hire a part-timer. We have to cover all of the borough. We have a full-time officer in the downtown. We will do the best we can with what we have."

Part of the police department's budget includes overtime that is accrued during events such as the Dogwood Festival which require an extensive amount of police attention.

"We should tell groups that the free ride is over," Scoda said. "If they want police at their events, they'll have to budget for it. We do a good job in policing events."

Following an executive session to discuss personnel matters, Councilman Marc Reber made a motion to direct the police department to decrease its budget by $200,000. After Dugan seconded the motion, the vote was 5-1 with Speck casting the negative vote.

"The police is the largest expenditure in our budget," Kirkner said. "They have fully funded benefits and fully funded pensions."

However, even with a decrease in $200,000, a tax increase in the 15 percent range doesn't sit well with Council members Dave Gautreau and Kirkner.

"I will not vote for a budget with a double-digit increase," Gautreau said. "This isn't a fun moment."

"I can't do a double digit increase as well," Kirkner added. "I'm with Mr. Gautreau on that."

The committee also discussed the elimination of the Phoenixville Government Channel, which airs Borough Council meetings regularly.

The borough has Channel 22 of the Comcast Cable Network and Channel 29 of the Verizon Cable Network to be utilized as public information channels as well as Borough Council meetings.

The draft budget has $36,000 taken out of it, which would keep the channel on air. There is $24,000 left in the budget that would go toward two council tapings to be streamed on the Internet.

"Part of having this channel is good for the community," Gautreau said.

Borough Finance Director Steve Nease said that each council meeting costs $750 as long as they don't go over four hours.

Kirkner made the suggestion of taping one meeting a month and not two meetings.

"We could go back to just having one meeting a month," he said. "We don't have $36,000 in the budget. I'd rather tape one meeting and have the cable channel go black."

Speck made a motion to have borough staff make a plan for an annual business license.

Kirkner explained that a $100 fee would be paid by anyone doing business in the borough.

"There are approximately 430 businesses in the borough, and if we can collect 70 percent of that, regardless of what type of business it is," he said. "This is giving our staff direction, and it's for the draft budget."

After Dugan seconded the motion, the vote passed 6-0.

The next Borough Council meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, Nov. 23 at 7 p.m. at Borough Hall. The next borough finance committee meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, Dec. 21 at 6 p.m. at Borough Hall.


Anonymous said...

Perhaps just enforcing some of the laws like - lights on if windshield washers are on - parking distance from intersection - parking distance from fire hydrants - out of date inspection stickers - etc., etc.

Ya, I know - they're State laws and the Borough only gets a small percentage of the fine. But every little bit helps.

Earmark this income into the Police operating budget.

What? You say. Make Phoenixville into a police state?

If enforcing existing laws and ordinances makes us a 'police town', so be it. It's all in the name of safety including police protection by having a sufficient number of officers on the force.

I think we are still under the recommended number of police officers for a borough the size of Phoenixville.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, that is what we need, even more BS tickets for the working class people in town!

I say lay off as many cops as it takes to avoid a tax increase. We already have 16 cops for a small town. I think we could easily get by with half that number.