The “suspension” of Hatboro’s program, fewer streetlights and a reduction in street sweeping were among the items the borough council approved Monday as it reigns in a $225,000 .
And while officials imply a tax increase could be inevitable, council members are combing through the roughly $4 million spending plan to see what reductions could help limit what is now projected to be a 13 percent tax boost. At that rate, officials said the owner of a home assessed at the borough average of $125,000 would pay roughly $100 more in taxes.
While officials have more work to do before a balanced budget can be adopted by the Dec. 31 deadline, progress is being made as evidenced in the approximate $60,000 in cuts made during Monday’s nearly four-hour meeting. Following a series of cost reductions, the council approved advertising its preliminary budget.
Perhaps the largest cuts – from a financial perspective - came from the public safety department as the council, under Police Chief James Gardner’s ok, cut its involvement in the D.A.R.E. program, which costs the department about $4,000 in overtime fees to teach a total of 80 hours of substance abuse prevention and awareness in the .
Because of questions regarding D.A.R.E’s effectiveness to prevent substance abuse among children, coupled with the borough’s budget restraints, Gardner said another approach, such as a school resource officer, might be better. But, since both and are located in Horsham, it would not be Hatboro’s responsibility to provide that service.
“That wouldn’t fall under us,” Gardner said. “That’s their jurisdiction.”
Gardner said in his recent talks with Chief Robert Ruxton, as well as school district officials, both shared that they did not know what the future of D.A.R.E. would be without Hatboro’s participation.
At least for now, Gardner said the two elementary schools in Hatboro – and – are his “priority.” Gardner said he would reach out to both schools’ principals to see what type of service or instruction a Hatboro Police officer could provide.
With D.A.R.E. on Hatboro’s cutting room floor, the council, as an added cost-cutting measure, voted to postpone the hiring of a replacement for , who resigned in June. Councilman John Zygmont initially suggested the new hire be made midway through 2012, but settled for a start date after the first quarter in 2012.
“Even if we had to raise taxes I think we need to hire two,” resident Ron Battis said of police. “I think one is not enough.”
And while Battis said drug and alcohol prevention should be taught in schools, he said it’s not the police officers’ responsibility.
“Let’s give it to the professionals,” Battis said of teachers. “We’re certainly paying them enough.”
Besides public safety cuts, other service reductions that residents may notice include:
- Less frequent street sweeping – Public Works Superintendent Fred Zollers said that 70 sweeps are done per year on overtime. Zollers said that number could be halved if sweeps were scaled back to once per week during summer and continue at twice per week during fall and spring. Zollers estimated the savings to be about $2,900.
- Dimmer lights after hours on York Road – Zollers said the lights, which come on at dusk, would shut off at midnight, leaving only “staggered” lights on the borough’s downtown. Zollers said using fewer lights could save $4,000 in next year’s budget. “You’re not really darkening York Road,” Zygmont said. “There’s so much duplication of light.”
Resident Chris Gowen, who owns and who serves as ’s president, said he was concerned about the “safety things” being cut and was fearful of other reductions.
“What would the people of the borough even consider a safe tax increase?” Gowen asked. “Why do we wait so long to do a tax increase? They have to raise it eventually. It’s better incrementally.”
Councilwoman Nancy Guenst - who had argued, unsuccessfully, with Republicans that money should be transferred from the $1 million capital projects budget to help balance the 2012 spending plan - said she was willing to “write a $100 check” for a tax increase.
“These residents pay a lot of money every year to have good services,” Guenst said.
For Battis, at least, those services do not include any provided by the borough’s nonprofit groups, who had requested a total of $140,000. Battis said none were deserving of the funding and said the council’s job is to fund police, fire and public works.
For the most part, the council agreed to maintain the 2011 funding levels for the groups, including the , , Visiting Nurse Association and . The received the only cut – from $11,500 to $10,000.