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Recap of the December BOS meeting – 2021 Budget

The December Board of Supervisors meeting included a presentation of the 2021 township budget. Yes, a portion of the presentation was related to the 2021 budget, but most of the time, it was nothing more than Interim Township Manager, Bill McCauley pointing out the “sins of the past” in the township, his great accomplishments in other townships, and pointing out the excessive salaries and benefits of the township employees. It was more like he was setting the stage for future contract negotiations with the unions. What he did not spend a lot of time on was explaining the actual 2021 budget. His presentation can be found here.

At the first public comment portion of the meeting, several questions/comments were received via e-mail, but one was from the Chair of the Zoning Board, who asked about previous comments from Mr. Hayes regarding pressure being put on Zoning Hearing Board members regarding an issue that was brought before that board. The owner of the SportsPlex of Warminster, on York Rd, asked for a zoning variance to convert the now closed location into a mix of retail shops in the front and a self-storage facility in the back of that building. The Board of Supervisors sent the township solicitor to that meeting to argue against granting that variance. The variance was unanimously approved in a bi-partisan vote. The Township is taking to the courts to appeal that ruling. The Zoning Board Chair stated in his comments that he is unaware of anyone on that board being pressured to vote in a particular manner. Mr. Hayes stated that what he said was only a “rumor” and he is happy to know that nobody on that board felt any pressure one way or the other. It seems to us that by sending the solicitor to oppose the request as well as turning to the courts to overturn the decision of the zoning board, the only pressure being placed on anyone regarding this issue was pressure by the Board of Supervisors. But remember, this is just a rumor.

During the budget public hearing portion of the meeting, instead of answering valid questions from the public, Mr. McCauley was defensive, deflective and downright rude to people asking simple questions. One taxpayer asked why the police budget was being reduced. Mr. McCauley, instead of answering the question, asked, “where should I get the money to pay for it?” When a concern was raised about cutting the police budget as crime was rising, the response was something about Camden, NJ cutting their police budget in half and the people still feel safe there. We are surprised he did not compare the police budget to the cost of tea in China, because that has as much to do with the Warminster police budget as what is happening in Camden, NJ.

Another taxpayer asked about how the professional firefighters would be paid for after the SAFER grant expires in three years. Mr. Hayes suggested that one of the things they are considering is “increasing the fire fund to pay for this.” What that means is an increase in the taxes paid for the fire fund. The problem with that idea is that as per the Second-Class Township Code, only the amount equal to one mill may be used from the fire fund to pay for salaries and benefits. That equates to roughly $330,000, which is less than two-thirds of  $530,000 that is budgeted for salary and benefits for firefighters in 2021.  The remainder will need to be budgeted in the General Fund.

When asked why the Administration had a line item for Severance/Salary Adjustment that is being doubled over 2020 from $150,000 to $300,000, it was suggested by the Chair that most of that is going to the police department. Why wouldn’t that be included in the police budget? Mr. McCauley was a little vaguer and stated that this money was put in there for employee raises. You know, for the same employees that he spent 30 minutes telling us where overpaid.

The most awkward portion of the public comment section was when a taxpayer asked a series of questions that Mr. McCauley and the Chairman could not or would not answer. The first question seemed to be a real stumper for the Interim Township Manager. The question related to two columns on the budget. The first was “2020 YTD Actual”, which represents the actual revenue collected at the time the budget was created. In this case, as of October 31st. The next column is “2020 Projection”, which according to Mr. McCauley, is the expected total at the end of the year. The question was a simple one; Why are revenues projected for the end of the year $1.3 million less than the Actual YTD from October? After about 30 seconds of stumbling over the budget and mumbling, the questioner directed him to page 4 of the budget. The response was “I’ll have to get back to you.” The questioner went onto the next question, but Mr. McCauley was still fixated on the first question, asking someone off camera “what’s the projected vs actual?” It’s now almost 2 minutes later and the response was something about “the YTD is what we booked, and the projection is for December 31st and that didn’t include the money from the Warminster Authority.” There was some back and forth with this question, but the answer that was given was incorrect. After looking into this a little more and speaking to some people who understand the budget, it turns out that the 2020 projections are lower than the YTD numbers because the end of year projections were made in July, and many things changed between July and October. You would think the people who constructed this budget would be able to answer a simple question like this. I guess its attention to detail like this is what we can expect moving forward.

An example of Mr. McCauley deflecting and being a bit abrasive occurred when a simple question was asked about a line item from the police budget for Computer Equipment/Supplies. The question was “Can you tell me what that line item represents and why it is no longer needed?” Mr. McCauley started talking about the overall budget and asked where the money should come from. The questioner again stated that he was just asking about what that line item was and why it was no longer needed. Simple question, right? The final answer is that he forgets what it is and then went right back to “every department will need to take some cuts.”

When a question about the Emergency Management salaries increasing by 10% from 2020 to 2021. Mr. McCauley only stated, “that was done before I was hired.” No further explanation for this increase.

Another question by this taxpayer had to do with the grants for the WCP project. He noted that $125,000 had already been received and asked what the expectation is for receiving the RACP and DCNR grants to offset the costs that the township must incur for these grant projects. It appears when all is said and done, the township (read taxpayers) will be on the hook for nearly $1 million for this project. As far as the expectation for when we would receive the grant money to offset some of our costs, there was a lot of discussion about the project being “completed” vs “substantially completed”. It appears after the project is completed, a series of “punch list items” need to be resolved before it is considered “substantially completed”, at which time the township will negotiate with the state over the grant money. As for the part about expectations for when this money would be received, no real answer was given other than it will be well after 2021.

The final question from this taxpayer had to do with street paving for 2021. The question had to do with why we are financing $2.5 million for street paving and not using the surplus money from the Highway Aid Fund (funded by liquid fuels tax). There is expected to be about $700,000 in that fund by the end of 2021 and no street paving expense is listed for that fund. At the very least, you would think we could use the $700,000 in that fund to offset some of the money that we are going to finance over 20 years. Mr. McCauley responded by explaining that we need more roads paved and the township is required to install curb ramps as part of an unfunded federal ADA mandate, which did not answer the question. Although, Mr. McCauley did state that they are trying to build up a surplus in the Highway Aid Fund to pay for some of these items in the future. This was followed by a discussion about the road paving program and paving more roads.  Is the answer to load the township down in more debt?

The most telling question that was asked was by one of the supervisors, who asked “If we are contracting out all of the road paving, will we be expecting a reduction in workforce at Public Works…?” Mr. McCauley questioned why we have a paving crew that only works 2 months out of the year but get paid for the entire year. It looks like the Board of Supervisors who vowed to not sell assets and not lay off workers to balance the budget have already sold an asset to balance the 2020 and 2021 budgets and now may be reducing headcount (not including the already reduction of 1 police officer) to balance future budgets.

Last and certainly not least is the sale of the Storm water system to the WMA earlier this year.  This was done to plug a self-inflicted hole in the revenues when the board budgeted for a general fund millage rate of 19 mills, and then after the 2020 budget was approved, decided to not seek court approval for the additional 5 mills.  This caused a loss of projected revenues of about $1.6 million, which was plugged by the sale of the storm water system.  If you’ve checked your mail in the past couple of days, you would have found a letter from the WMA in which they increased both the water and sewer rates by just under 4% each.  The question that is begging to be asked here is why does the water and sewer rates need to be increased if the WMA is so flush with cash that they can spend $6 million for the township storm water system that comes with an estimated $5 million in needed repairs?  This couldn’t possibly be the back-door tax that we’ve been telling you about since this storm water sale was proposed.  Don’t be surprised if a rain tax is added on in a future water bill.


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