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Warminster Board of Supervisors – A Year in Review

In the article below, we will review the current Board of Supervisors’ meetings for 2020 and list all the significant decisions made during 2020.  We will classify each item as “Good”, “Bad”, or “Ugly” and even provide some background and/or context to each item.

Here is how each rating can be described:

Good – This is a decision or action by the Board of Supervisors that we agree with and find beneficial to the township. 

Bad – This is a decision or action by the Board of Supervisors that we disagree with that we find is NOT beneficial to the township. 

Ugly – This is exactly what you think it means.  A decision was made by the Board of Supervisors that is beyond bad and/or will have detrimental impacts on the township in the future.

January Reorganization Meeting

Partisan Politics – Rating: UGLY It did not take long to realize that the new Democrat majority on the board would run the board as a four-member board, as they refused to second a couple of nominations that the lone Republican on the Board, Mark McKee offered. This included a position on the planning commission that was open and only one person had applied for prior to the meeting. Even the appointment of Solicitor, alternate Solicitor and Labor Counsel was a little curious, as they were recommended without all the board members having an opportunity to meet and/or interview the candidates.

The Board of Supervisors have 5 elected members, so excluding one member based solely on the party that member belongs too is the epitome of partisan politics that we have witnessed on the national level for many years now.

Limits on Public Comments – Rating: BAD In this reorg meeting, it was decided by the Chairman that the public comments portion of the “Public Meetings” would be reduced to 3 minutes instead of the 5 minutes that has been in place for year. In addition, the board was removing the public comments when agenda items came up for a vote. What this meant was that to comment and/or question a decision, a member of the public would need to wait until the end of that meeting or wait until the next month to ask questions and/or comment.

January Regular Monthly Meeting

Reinstating Public Comment – Rating: Good Board Chairman, Ken Hayes stated, “…the board listened to the residents and will continue to allow public comment after every motion” at public meetings. It is good to see that the board actually listens to what the public says, but the 3-minute limit on comments will continue to be enforced.

Re-open of the 2020 Budget – Rating: Bad Since the previous year was an election year, the board had the option to re-open the budget. The budget that was approved in December by the previous board included the sale of the WMA, which would have solved the massive unfunded pension and OPEB liabilities, which currently stands at more than $30 million. This budget would have gotten the township on firm financial footing for many years to come. The new proposed budget cancelled the WMA sale and raised taxes by over 64%, with nothing in the new budget to address the pension and OPEB issue.

Set the tax rates for 2020 – Rating: Bad Along with the newly adopted budget, the board set the millage rates as follows: Overall mill rate from 17.07 to 28.06 mills (64.4% increase), including the following

  1. General Fund: From 11.09 to 19 mills (72.3 % increase)

  2. Ambulance Fund: From 0.13 to 0.19 mills (46.2% increase)

  3. Fire Fund: From 1.25 to 1.50 mills (20% increase)

  4. Library: Remains at 1.85 mills

  5. Parks and Rec Fund: 2.00 to 3.5 mills (75% increase)

  6. Debt Service Fund: 0.75 to 2.02 mills (169.33% increase)

This is a massive tax increase, which includes a 72.3% increase for the general fund. By law, the general fund cannot be raised above 14 mills without state court approval, and that approval only allows for an additional 5 mills. The board of supervisors decided to go for the max.

February Regular Monthly Meeting

Appointment of Treasurer – Rating: UGLY In the January Reorganization meeting, the board appointed Judy Hoover as the Treasurer, but because she could not get the required bonding for the position, she had to resign as Treasurer. Here is where it gets ugly. Ms. Hoover made a motion to appoint township finance director as the treasurer. This didn’t work as the Finance Director did not accept the appointment and instead resigned as Finance Direct.

Reset General Fund Mill Rate to 14 mills – BAD In the previous meeting, the board decided to seek state court approval to raise the mill rate from 11.07 to 19 mills, with approval needed for anything above 14 mills. In this meeting, the board changed their mind and decided to not seek court approval, and instead settle on 14 mills. One taxpayer noted that this would remove about $1.3 million from the already accepted budget, which means an additional $1.3 million would need to be found just to balance the current budget.

Hire former Bristol Township Manager as a short-term financial consultant – BAD There is not inherently wrong with hiring a financial consultant to help you out when you are having a financial hardship, but the problem here is that it cost the township about $13,000 and the best idea he offered was to lease the storm water system to the WMA. The only problem is that this move is not legal. Most of his financial report was just a series of jabs he took at the board of supervisors and township manager. This was pretty much wasted money when the township does not have money to waste.

March Regular Monthly Meeting

Amendment to Ordinance 761 – Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee – Rating: Good The Parks and Rec Advisory Committee ordinance was outdated and needed serious updating, including change the official name of the committee and setting up requirements for meetings, including appointing officers and setting attendance requirements.

Approval of new contract for the Township Manager – Rating: Good With a new board seated, there was a desire to keep the Township Manager, if for no other reason than to provide continuity in the operations of the township. While this was a good move at the time, it got a bit more complicated as the year wore on. More on this later.

April Regular Monthly Meeting

Remote meetings due to Covid-19 – Rating: Good March and April were the beginning of the pandemic, and the board of supervisors reacted by holding the April meeting via teleconference, with only Chairman Hayes and the Township Manager in the meeting hall. The other four supervisors as well as the township professionals participated via telephone. Throughout the year, the board adapted to the “new normal” by going from a mostly remote meeting to a full remote. It took a little while to get to a point where citizens could actually ask question virtually at the podium in the meeting room, with the supervisors and township professionals participating remotely.

Rejection of all bids for the park project – Rating: UGLY This is rated as “UGLY” simply because all the bids came in significantly higher than expected. You would think that after years of planning, someone would have guessed how much this project would cost.

May Regular Monthly Meeting

Decision to NOT apply for the SAFER Grants – Rating: BAD The Board decided to not apply for SAFER grants, which would pay for 75% of the salaries and benefits of paid firefighters for three years. The need for paid firefighters is serious as the volunteer companies in the township cannot guarantee weekday coverage. But, because the board did not want to cover the 25% of that cost, a decision was made that our safety was not worth the cost to the township.

May Special Meeting - SAFER Grants

Decision to apply for the SAFER Grants – Rating: UGLY The initial decision to not apply for SAFER Grants was based on cost, as the board decided that picking up the tab for 25% of the cost was too much to provide guaranteed fire coverage for weekdays in the township. After the Trump administration decided to fully fund the firefighters, the board needed to rush to approve the application for these grants. This is rated as “UGLY” simply because we now know that saving a few bucks is more important to the board of supervisors than the safety of the citizens in this township.

NOTE: There was no meeting held in the month of June

July Regular Monthly Meeting

Appointment of new Treasurer and Secretary – Rating: UGLY Nothing epitomized the Keystone Kops type of governing than the mess regarding the Treasurer position in the township. Initially, Ms. Hoover was appointed as Treasurer and Ms. Owens was the Secretary. When Ms. Hoover could not secure the necessary bonding for Treasurer, the board of supervisors decided to appoint the township finance director as the Treasurer. Instead of accepting that appointment, the Finance Director as Finance Direct. So, Supervisor Owens resigned as Township Secretary and was appointed as Treasurer and Supervisor Hoover was appointed as Secretary. We hope you were able to keep up with all of that, hence the “UGLY” rating.

NOTE: No significant decisions were made at the August Regular Monthly Meeting.

September Regular Monthly Meeting

Approved sign maintenance and monitoring agreement at 1020 W. Bristol Rd – Rating: GOOD The property owners of this soon to be office building is offering to install a “Welcome to Warminster” sign on the property and maintain that sign going forward. This will cost the township nothing, so this is a good thing for the township. Rejection of requests for abatement of penalty and interest on delinquent business taxes: Rating: UGLY This gets an “UGLY” rating simply for the fact that since there were multiple businesses who falsely understood that the business taxes deadline would be extended due to the pandemic, there should have been better communication between the township and the business community. We feel for these businesses, but we also agree with the decision to reject these requests.

Approve the INTENT TO AWARD the Community Park bids to the lowest bidders – Rating: GOOD Finally moving forward with an intent to award the bids to the lowest bidder is a long time coming. It has been years in the making that included two rounds of bidding. In September, when this was passed by the board, it was a good thing. But please review the October meeting comments below to see how a good thing can turn bad very quickly.

Authorize RFP for financing of Community Park Project and Shenandoah Woods Purchase: Rating: GOOD The plan was to take an $8.5 million draw down loan to pay the upfront costs associated with the Community Park project as well as the purchase and remediation of the Shenandoah Woods property. What this means is that the township would only borrow the amounts needed when those costs arise, and then pay the loan off partially with the expected DCNR and RACP grants. This would add no additional costs or long-term financing to the already cash strapped township other than what we have committed to for these projects.

Approval of sale of stormwater system to the Warminster Municipal Authority- Rating: BAD When the board decided to approve a budget that included 19 mills for the general fund and then later decided to not seek the additional 5 mills, this created a $1.6 million hole in the budget. To make up for this self-inflicted problem, it was decided to sell an asset for $6 million. Of this $6 million, $1.7 would be used to close this revenue gap. If you checked your mail lately, you would have found a letter from the WMA stating that they need to raise water and sewer rates by about 4%. This, ladies and gentlemen, is called a “back-door tax.” The township cannot raise taxes for the general fund without state court approval, so they get cash from the WMA who then passes the cost of that sale on to the rate payers.

Authorize the township solicitor to argue against a zoning variance for 606 York Rd – Rating: BAD The owner of the SMG Sportplex Plaza is asking the township to grant a variance so he can turn the now closed Sportsplex into a mix-use property, with retail stores in the front and self-storage in the back. We are stumped as to why the board is against this variance. The only reason we heard from the Chairman was that the township gives out too many variances. Remember that this is a good property owner, who has upgraded his property to make it aesthetically pleasing, and he has even offered the now closed “Kids First Swim School” building to the Y so they can have a pool. When this variance was passed in a unanimous and bi-partisan vote by the Zoning board, the township decided to take the matter to court in the form an appeal. That matter is still pending.

October Regular Monthly Meeting

Awarding of bids for Warminster Community Park Project – Rating: BAD In the September meeting the Board of Supervisors authorized the “Intent to Award” contracts for the Community Park projects. The catch here is that despite the “Intent to Award” to the lowest bidder, it was decided that these contractors did not qualify under the Responsible Contractor Ordinance (RCO). The fact is that while most of the RCO does include provisions that protects the township by ensuring that the contractors do not have any criminal convictions and they can get the necessary insurance and bonding, there is one provision in that ordinance that effectively requires contractors to be union. It requires the contractor to have an apprentice program, which in our opinion is an overreach by government into how a company should be run. One of the low bidders who was disqualified does not have an apprentice program, but all their sub-contractors have union workers. Many of those workers are Warminster residents. But, instead of issuing a waiver for that contractor for that one provision, it was decided to award both contracts to the highest bidder, at a cost of more than $275,000.

Shenandoah Woods Purchase – Rating: GOOD This purchase is good for the township. If the township did not purchase this property, the navy would have sold it to a developer and due to its location and restricted access points would have been a difficult area for our police to patrol or fire department to access. And the township would lose control over what is developed on that property. The only real downside here is that the township had to settle with the Aldie Corporation, who claimed a right to purchase this property and sued the Navy and township to enforce that agreement. This cost the township $275,000 in the form of a settlement with Aldie.

Financing for the Community Park Project and Shenandoah Woods. – Rating: Good During this meeting it was explained that the township would take an $8.5 million draw down loan. This loan works like a Home Equity Line of Credit. You only borrow what you need, and you do not pay interest until/unless you draw down an amount. The $8.5 million is considered a high amount, much of which would not be used, and a good portion of the loan used for the Community Park projects would be covered by grants from the county and state. There would have been a slight increase in the debt service mill rate, but only until the grants arrived and offset the cost of the park project and the loan was paid down. At that point, the debt service mill rate would be reset.

Pension Obligation Bond – Rating: Bad During this meeting there was a presentation regarding taking a pension obligation bond to pay for the massive unfunded pension liabilities of the township. The presentation included a pension obligation bond works, but most of the presentation gave many reasons why to not use this financial instrument for solving pension problems. A simple Google search would explain why this is a bad idea, as it comes with massive future risks to the finances of a township. This was rated as bad simply because it was a waste of time to even consider this option. We later found that the township will not go down this financial rabbit hole.

2021 Proposed Budget Highlights – Bad The Township Manager presented highlights of the 2021 budget. This included a 29.2% tax increase, a pension obligation bond (POB) to deal with the unfunded pension liabilities and a $500,000 budget deficit that would be covered by the sale of the storm water system to the WMA. The Township Manager also warned that there would be more financial stress on the township in the coming years, despite the sale of the POB. Instead of fixing the financial issues of the township, the proposed 2021 budget just kicks the can down the road and puts us in a worse financial position.

October Special Meeting - Township Manager

Termination of the Township Manager – Rating: UGLY It came as no surprise that the Township Manager was let go, but this was done in the middle of the budget process and just months after giving him a new contract at $145,000/year, including a $72,500 severance package. For a board who came in with the intent of providing financial stability, it seems they have wasted a ton of township money while not doing anything to correct the finances of the township.

Appointment of Bill McCauley as Interim Township Manager – Rating: BAD We will not focus on the well documented abrasive personality of the former Bristol Township Manager who was hired on a temporary basis, for now. But the entire mess created with the Township Manager position did cost the township a lot of money. In addition to the $72,500 in severance that is to be paid to the former Manager, the contract with Mr. McCauley includes an hourly rate of $125/hr, which annualized equates to about $250,000. This rate will be in effect until the board decides to hire a permanent manager. Again, this is money wasted at a time when the township cannot afford to waste money.

November Regular Monthly Meeting

Authorizing a $12 million General Obligation Note (GON) – Rating: BAD With the change in township managers the township scrapped the proposed budget from the September meeting, along with the $8.5 million draw down loan and replaced it with a $12 million loan. Yes, the rate on the new loan is considerably less than the draw down loan, and it will save some money over time, but the savings of $1.1 million is a stretch. You see, as explained above, the plan was to only borrow what was needed for the park project and Shenandoah Woods, and only when that money is needed. Interest would only accrue on the money drawn on the loan and only after it is drawn. It could be months or even a year before any of that money would be needed. In addition, between the temporary increase in the debt service mill rate and the expected grants to cover a portion of the park projects, whatever was borrowed would have been paid off in less than 10 years. With the new $12 million loan, all $20 million will be borrowed up front and interest would be paid on the full amount for a full 20 years. The $1.1 million savings figure compares the interest savings over the full 20 years when compared to the “worst case scenario” of the $8.5 million loan. This worst-case scenario assumes all $8.5 million being drawn down on day 1 of the loan and after 10 years the interest rate adjusting to 4%. This is beyond a “worst case scenario”, but rather a fantasy by the Interim Township Manager. Yes, over 20 years there would be savings, but during that 20 years, the taxpayers would never see the debt service mill rate reset.

Budget Discussion – Rating: UGLY Instead of an actual budget discussion, the Interim Township Manager just informed the supervisors that it would be challenging because the 2019 financial audit still has not been completed. One item that makes this especially ugly is that it only came to light in September that escrow monies from past development projects had not been released to the township. This amounted to over $800,000. Seems someone forgot to move the money to the township accounts.

Rejection of requests for abatement of penalty and interest on delinquent business taxes: Rating: UGLY Yet another business missed the tax deadline and asked for an abatement of penalty and interest. Same comments that we made in the September meeting.

Issuing an RFP for a Tax Anticipation Note (TAN) for $1.5 million. – Rating: Bad A TAN is used when the township does not have enough cash on hand to pay bills before the taxes are collected in the spring. The question that needs to be asked here is why do we need to spend $22,500 in interest for a short-term TAN when the township has $4.3 million from the WMA that is being used for the 2021 budget? This is such a bad idea that even the Interim Manager sounded like he was against this idea.

Approve application to Del Val Regional Finance Authority to refinance 2019 GON for the Golf Course Irrigation System: Rating: GOOD You really cannot argue if you can refinance with a better rate and pay off the loan in roughly the same amount of time. Even though the Golf Course can handle the principal and interest payments on the current loan, spreading it out for a longer period while still saving money will allow some of the profits from the golf course to go directly to the township. The alternative is to pay off the loan at a higher rate and shorter period and then provide even more annual cash from their profits to the township. We like the scenario where it costs less over the life of the loan, even if it takes longer to pay it off.

December Special Meeting - Budget

Authorization to advertise the 2021 Budget – Rating: GOOD There is not much to say here as the township is required to advertise that the budget for the upcoming meeting is available for public inspection for 20 days. We will provide more information below when the budget is presented and discussed.

Appeal Zoning Board Decision regarding 606 York Road – Rating: BAD This item was added as an agenda item during the meeting. We detailed as part of the September meeting. After the township solicitor was unable to convince the Zoning Hearing Board to rule the way the supervisors wanted, the decision was made to appeal that decision. That is what this item represents, and we still think it is a bad decision and not very pro-business.

December Regular Monthly Meeting

Public Hearing on Proposed 2021 Budget – Rating: UGLY Since we detailed what happened during this public hearing in a separate posting, we will just refer you to that summary, which can be found here. In addition, we provided a review of the 2021 budget that was discussed at this meeting. That can be found here.

Resolution to establish 2021 Real Estate Tax Millage and Fees – Rating: Good Since the real estate taxes and sanitation fees are not increasing, we rate this as a good thing, although the Interim Manager did mention that the WMA money for the storm water sale would only cover the principal and interest payments for 3 years before the debt service mill rate would need to be increased. But, for this point in time, taxes are not going up and that is a good thing.

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