Park maintenance contested in Franklin Township budget
By John Chambless
The Franklin Township Board of Supervisors will consider adopting the township's 2014 budget at their meeting on Dec. 18, but not without some disagreement on the board.
The board approved the proposed budget at its meeting on Nov. 20, with a vote of three to two. As written, it provides a 10 percent reduction in the real estate tax, resulting in a total income reduction of 4 percent. Capital availability is increased to provide $550,000 for road maintenance, $100,000 for a shed to store salt and anti-skid materials, and $30,000 earmarked for inlet repair, crack sealing, and pipe cleaning.
The real estate tax was selected for reduction because it provides the most equal benefit to all residents, according to a notice on the township's website.
The budget, largely written by chairman John Auerbach, will result in about $50 in real estate tax savings for the average household in the township, and also makes many cuts in expenditures. The budget calls for budgeting only $12,600 for park maintenance, an amount that two supervisors, Paul Overton and Nan Latimer, voted against.
The line item on the 2014 proposed budget lists $12,600 for parkland and recreation facilities expenditures and cash and proposed income, leaving a cash balance of only $2.
Overton, who has fought for trail improvements in the county's nature preserves, feels that the lack of funding will prevent necessary bridges and trails from being built and maintained.
At the board's Oct. 16 meeting, the board members argued over building footbridges in the township-owned Banffshire Preserve. Overton has led the way on a long-term project to put public trails into the township's preserves. The rugged terrain of the Banffshire Preserve, located north of Chesterville Road, has proven to be a challenge, with several areas where walkers must cross small streams on the property. Overton detailed the costs and materials for the bridges at the meeting.
"My intention was always to have four bridges," Overton said -- three in Banffshire and one on the Keen Trail. The bridges, designed with two telephone poles laid across the stream and wooden planking nailed on top of them, have been complicated by several factors. The poles, which Overton hoped to have donated, have proven to be hard to find. When he did get nine donated, they proved to be so heavy that he had to call in outside help to move them to the preserve, at a cost of $600. It had been hoped that one of the bridges could be a Boy Scout project, but the weight and complexity of the project proved to be too much, so Overton had to rely on a group of volunteers.
Along the way, a bridge needed to be made wider and stronger to allow a mainenance vehicle to use it, increasing the cost of the wooden decking. Bridges that are over a certain height are also required to have handrails, further adding costs. The cost for a basic foot bridge without handrails, Overton said, is $280.
One 22-foot bridge is completed, and a 32-foot bridge on the Keen Trail is in progress, Overton said. It needs ramps for access. "We've spent $1,900 on it so far, and I need $469 more to complete it," he told the board.
There's also a culvert that has collapsed on the maintenance access road in Banffshire, which would prevent emergency and maintence vehicles from getting into the preserve. A replacement pipe and installation will be around $500.
In the final total, Overton, whose term on the board is finished this month, said he needed $3,231 to finish all the bridge installations this year before the ground froze.
Auerbach confronted Overton on the issue, saying, "My issue with this is the scope of the project. We had agreed that we needed one 40-foot bridge into the preserve. I just recently found out that we need four bridges. I was shocked. I did not expect this."
Auerbach outlined total costs of $24,165 for all the work done so far in the township's preserves, including a new parking lot. The parking lot itself was budgeted at $10,000 and ended up costing $14,000. "We've spent all this money, and we're not done yet," Auerbach said. "I am not happy with overspending our budget like this."
Supervisor Penny Schenk criticized Overton as well. "You took on this major undertaking all by yourself and went off on this tangent without any concensus from the board," she said.
The board will meet in the township building (20 Municipal Lane, Kemblesville) on Dec. 18 at 7 p.m. to vote on adopting the budget. The public is welcome to attend and to comment. For more information, visit www.franklintownship.us.