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Lower Macungie Township Commissioner Ron Beitler’s explanation of his Budget vote.

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Ron Beitler

 

http://www.mcall.com/news/local/eastpenn/mc-lower-macungie-sewer-rates-20161219-story.html

For those who might be interested in an explanation of my “no” vote.

I found myself in the position of having to vote “No” on the yearly township budget again. Despite finding myself in this place now two years in a row, it is not a position I like, seek or expect to find myself in year after year.

However, as it is the biggest decision we make over the course of a year – and understanding one shouldn’t expect to ever be 100% satisfied when on a township governing body with the reality of “5 cooks in a kitchen” – I found myself in the familiar position of having serious issues with major components.

Below, is some explanation about items I couldn’t get my head around to support. I’d be happy to answer questions.

1.) The initial proposed budget reflected floating an “up to” 9M dollar bond. A menu was provided giving us options to consider various bond amounts/lengths paired with tapping into the general fund balance at various levels to fund 9M of capital projects. As of adoption, these amounts/details were not decided. Therefore huge decisions were left up in the air and unresolved.

2.) There was also consideration for establishing a line of credit in lieu of a bond. I was far more comfortable with this since a line of credit allows us to take advantage of great rates but without obligating us to spend X. (X being undetermined). I preferred this flexibility. To debit “as needed”. Also preserving the option of “not needed at all”. Since as we know government projects are extremely susceptible to “vision creep” once a bond is floated. That often leads to seeking out projects to spend X amount of money. Rather then a real demand/need being the driving force.

3.) I do not want to – even for a short period of time increase the yearly debt service we pay now. Some scenarios would do that. So again, not having that locked down is a problem.

4.) I supported a build up of the general fund reserve over the last few years for a very specific reason. That was, as part of a comprehensive open space preservation strategy. We are able today, to consider on a case to case basis opportunities like purchase of the Shep. Hills golf course development rights because of our substantial “cash” on hand position above and beyond our fund balance requirements. In all things cash is king and that gives us the greatest flexibility. Drawing down our savings/cash position imo actually reduces our ability to react quickly to land preservation opportunities.

5.) While I support a library expansion of some sort since it is a demonstrated need, as with all bond funded projects this conversation experienced rapid “vision creep”. It very quickly expanded from a discussion of matching library funds (for let’s say 250,000 dollars) to secure a grant opportunity to funding a major 5 million dollar community center expansion. I was not ok with the speed this discussion morphed.

6.) Although the sewer rate increase is unfortunate, it had nothing to do with my “no” vote. As explained in the article, this is an unfunded mandate put on us by the EPA. This is unfortunately reality. One that every community is dealing with. The increase was an unfortunate necessity. The entire board however did push back on the initial request of 20% in favor of 15%. To ignore this would have been irresponsible.

7.) This years budget contains no tax increases. It’s in my opinion that should remain the case for the foreseeable future if we lock down our spending. I think we can do this while still making key investments to improve the community. Part of a comprehensive strategy is to break the debt cycle or at least significantly reduce it. With our current debt expiring in 2019 we had a golden opportunity to do this and we didn’t. Instead we opted for the standard “playbook” play of wrapping our debt around for wants not needs. Problem is adherence to the playbook is why such a high % of Pennsylvania communities find themselves distressed. We are not. We’re far from it. But I’d like to keep it that way. I’m interested in breaking certain cycles. We have a number of timebombs in this community. Police protection, fire protection, mounting public liabilities related to warehousing. There is a good chance we are going to have to deal with one or more in the next ten years. It’s likely we’ll be doing so carrying the burden of this bond when I’m not convinced we had to.

Ron Beitler

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