Board ap­proves $11M bud­get, de­bates sell­ing ease­ment rights

The Advance of Bucks County - - NEWTOWN AREA - By D.E. Sch­lat­ter

NEW­TOWN TOWN­SHIP - In a 3-2 vote, the Board of Su­per­vi­sors ap­proved the $11,011,577 gen­eral fund bud­get for the 2013 fis­cal year be­gin­ning -an. 1 that holds the line on taxes while main­tain­ing town­ship ser­vices at cur­rent lev­els.

How­ever, the de­bate con­tin­ues on whether to sell lan­dease­ment rights un­der the pri­vately-owned cell phone tower on town­ship land at the mu­nic­i­pal com­plex on Durham Road.

At the Dec. 19 meet­ing, Su­per­vi­sors Rob Ciervo and Philip Cal­abro were the dis­sent­ing votes on the bud­get.

Both ques­tioned whether the pro­jected one-time pay­ment of $550,000 to the town­ship for the land ease­ment for the life of the cell tower trumps get­ting the an­nual $42,000 ren­tal fee that Amer­i­can Tower Corp., which owns the struc­ture, now pays New­town to lease the land.

“I’m con­cerned about (the $550,000 fig­ure) be­ing in the bud­get,” Ciervo said, “I don’t know what the ease­ment is val­ued at.”

“If we keep this for 15 years, then we get $640,000 Ein rent),” he added.

The pro­posed sale of the land ease­ment, along with a pro­jected $230,000 bal­ance at the end of the 2013 fis­cal year would bring the gen­eral fund re­serve to roughly $780,000, which is then car­ried over into the 2014 bud­get year.

That re­serve, which is known as the ‘fund bal­ance for­ward,’ would rep­re­sent more than 7.5 per­cent of the 2013 gen­eral fund, and is con­sid­ered an ap­pro­pri­ate bud­getary safety net by town­ship of­fi­cials.

“This is not right, the only rea­son Ethe land ease­ment sale) is in the bud­get is to bring Ethe re­serve) up to 7.5 per­cent,” de­clared Cal­abro. “We’re go­ing to pass the bud­get with­out a fig­ure we don’t have proof of yet.”

“In the past fig­ures have been juiced up to have the bud­get balanced,” Cal­abro said. “If you’re go­ing to sell as­sets to sur­vive it’s the wrong thing to do.”

But the sale of the town­ship land ease­ment is not a for­gone con­clu­sion, and the su­per­vi­sors still would have to ap­prove it in the coming fis­cal year.

“Is $550,000 a fair value? I don’t know,” Su­per­vi­sor Ryan Gal­lagher in­ter­jected. “The deal is not signed, we might have an­other buyer coming in at more money.”

Mean­while, Vice Chair­man Matt Bench­ener sup­ported the pro­posed sale, not­ing the cor­po­ra­tions of­ten sell as­sets to bal­ance their books.

“We weath­ered a unique time in Amer­i­can fi­nan­cial his­tory and New­town Town­ship fi­nan­cial his­tory,” Bench­ener said of the 2008 eco­nomic down­turn. “Sell­ing the ease­ment puts us on the right path.”

All three of the res­i­dents who ad­dressed the bud­get in the pub­lic com­ment part Wed­nes­day’s meet­ing, which lasted more than three­and-a-half hours, also ques­tioned the ben­e­fit of sell­ing the cell tower land ease­ment.

-ay Sen­si­baugh of New­town Cross­ing told the su­per­vi­sors that it was “a bad idea” to sell the ease­ment for a one-time cash pay­ment.

Os­car Szigeti agreed, say­ing that the true value of the prop­erty should be as­cer­tained.

“Per­haps it can be worth a lot more stay­ing with us,” he noted.

In a pre­pared state­ment, town­ship res­i­dent -ennifer Dix ar­gued that the 2013 bud­get re­sorts to “sell­ing off an as­set just to stay afloat.”

“This as­set was earn­ing about an eight­per­cent re­turn each year, and now at best, that money will be in a bank ac­count earn­ing a frac­tion of that,” she as­serted.

Ac­cord­ing to Dix, for the past five years the su­per­vi­sors have been out­spend­ing rev­enues.

“With­out sell­ing off this as­set we would be deficit spend­ing yet again in 2013,” she claimed.

But Su­per­vi­sor Ryan Gal­lagher said that New­town is suf­fer­ing through the same eco­nomic hard times plagu­ing other mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties, and that the ease­ment sale is only an op­tion at this point.

“Some Esu­per­vi­sors) make it sound like a stop gap mea­sure,” he said. “We can talk about it next year, but right now we have to pass a bud­get.”

Mean­while,

rev­enue pro­jec­tions for the coming fis­cal year are slightly bet­ter than orig­i­nally thought when the bud­get was first pre­sented on Nov. 14.

In the 2013 bud­get, the town­ship’s Earned In­come Tax EEIT) and the real es­tate trans­fer tax are an­tic­i­pated to bring in a to­tal of roughly $40,000 in in­creased monies than first es­ti­mated.

The real es­tate trans­fer tax rev­enues for the coming fis­cal year are now pro­jected to be $550,000, up from the $535,000 es­ti­mate when the pre­lim­i­nary bud­get was un­veiled.

In ad­di­tion, the EIT rev­enues for next year are now pegged at $5,300,000, higher than the $5,275,000 first es­ti­mate in Novem­ber. More than half of the New­town’s bud­get comes from the Earned In­come Tax that res­i­dents and non-res­i­dents who work in the town­ship pay.

The new bud­get, which is 1.26 per­cent higher than the 2012 fis­cal package, also al­lo­cates $30,000 for a new po­lice car, pro­vid­ing the money is avail­able early next year from the an­tic­i­pated higher tax re­ceipts.

As in many mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties, New­town’s po­lice de­part­ment re­ceives the lion’s share of fund­ing. Nearly 40 per­cent of the town­ship’s bud­get, about $4.2 mil­lion, is ear­marked for po­lice ser­vices, more than half of which will go to­wards of­fi­cers’ salaries.

Ac­cord­ing to Town­ship Man­ager Kurt )er­gu­son, the pro­posed bud­get also has been ad­justed to in­clude the re­cent raises in union con­tracts: 3.5 per­cent for po­lice, three per­cent for emer­gency ser­vices and two per­cent for the town­ship’s union­ized sup­port staff.

)er­gu­son also noted that the fi­nance di­rec­tor’s po­si­tion will not be filled in the coming fis­cal year, sav­ing the town­ship more than a hun­dred thou­sand dol­lars in salary and ben­e­fits. The du­ties now will be split be­tween the ex­ist­ing ad­min­is­tra­tive staff as well as the town­ship man­ager.

4ues­tions also arose about the $112,500 al­lo­cated tin the bud­get to the lo­cal am­bu­lance squad.

“Can you ex­plain why we keep on giv­ing this or­ga­ni­za­tion so much money,” Cal­abro asked.

Although the fund­ing was ap­proved, sev­eral su­per­vi­sors re­quested that the town­ship will meet with the res­cue squad to as­cer­tain how the money is be­ing spent, and how much it will ac­tu­ally need in the fu­ture.

8nlike many other mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties, New­town’s gen­eral fund is not fi­nanced by real es­tate taxes. cor the last 17 years, prop­erty taxes have only been used to sup­port the debt ser­vice and fire pro­tec­tion funds, which are sep­a­rate from the gen­eral fund which han­dles day-to-day town­ship op­er­a­tions.

In the 2013 bud­get about $805,000, 2.5 mils, is an­tic­i­pated from real es­tate taxes.

The su­per­vi­sors also unan­i­mously ap­proved res­o­lu­tions for­mally adopt­ing that mil­lage rate, as well as the 2013 pay scale for the town­ship’s uni­formed and non-uni­formed em­ploy­ees.

In other ac­tion, the board voted 5-0 to no longer ex­tend par­tial re­tire­ment health ben­e­fits to fu­ture town­ship em­ploy­ees who are not cov­ered by col­lec­tive bar­gain­ing agree­ments.

The is­sue arose be­cause four past re­tirees are re­ceiv­ing life­time par­tial health care ben­e­fits that were ap­prove by a former town­ship man­ager with­out ex­press con­sent from the su­per­vi­sors.

“You don’t con­tinue on with some­thing that was ap­proved by a past man­ager in er­ror,” Ciervo ex­plained.

The change does not af­fect those re­tirees al­ready re­ceiv­ing the ben­e­fits.

The su­per­vi­sors have sched­uled a -an. 7 re­or­ga­ni­za­tion meet­ing with a pub­lic work ses­sion slated for gan. 9.

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