New Garden board passes $13.2 million 2020 budget
● By Richard Gaw
By Richard L. Gaw
The New Garden Township Board of Supervisors gave approval at their Dec. 30 meeting to the township's 2020 budget, whose expenditures and revenues are earmarked at $13.2 million for the year, and projected to be $5.43 million less than the 2019 budget.
The additional funding for last year, reflected in the township’s capital fund, was used to pay for the construction of the new facility for the Southern Chester County Regional Police Department, which opened in September.
Apart from the capital fund, several other funds saw either substantial increases or decreases for 2020. The township has budgeted $56,900 to its parks fund for 2020 – a large decrease from the $738,100 it invested in the fund in 2019, when it helped to fund Phase II of the improvements to New Garden Township Park. In 2020, the airport fund will receive $1.12 million, an increase from the $787,400 it received in 2019; in contrast, the airport capital fund will receive $50,000 this year, a drop from 2020, when it received $140,000.
The township is projected to work with a $6.4 million general fund, of which $2.1 million will go to the Southern Chester County Regional Police Department, and nearly $600,000 will be directed to highway and street maintenance and improvements.
On the revenue side, the township anticipates receiving $1.5 million in real estate taxes; $3.47 million in local taxes; $2.57 million in sewer fees; nearly $600,000 in state grants; and about $1 million in intrafund and interfund transfers.
The township increased its contribution to the department's fire support unit to $201,300 in 2020, up from a $195,400 contribution in 2019. Following a nearly one-hour long appeal by Shawn Carroll, chief of the Avondale Fire Company, the board voted 3-2 to contribute an additional $50,000 to the fire department's EMS service – upping its proposed figure of $116,100 to $166,100.
The number served as a half-way point compromise to the $215,704 the department was requesting from the township for its EMS service in 2020, but still falls short of what the department was seeking from a township that receives all of its EMS support from the Avondale Fire Department.
Carroll said that the reason for the request for more funding from the township is due to a projected loss of $169,317 in 2019 in the departments' EMS ledger, which has required the department to transfer $142,000 from its Ambulance Replacement Fund to cover EMS costs until January, leaving a total balance of $35,000.
Carroll said that because the EMS service has seen a substantial drop in volunteerism, the department is having to fund paid staff to fill in the gaps left by a dwindling number of volunteers, in order to maintain a consistent level of service. Consequently, as the departments' volunteer numbers drop, its payroll is going up.
“If we don't receive more funding, we will run that account dry, and the fire department will have to make the decision whether they want to step in and help the EMS division or limit our services,” Carroll said. “I've asked this question at the last budget meeting, and I ask this question again: With your contribution, what level of services do you want for fire and EMS?
“With your [current] budget approval, we're going to go under with EMS without additional support,” he told the supervisors. “We can't sustain a $170,000 loss. It's just not going to happen.”
Board chairman Steve Allaband that the township has had to transfer $905,000 as a cash transfer in order to balance its 2020 budget.
“We're bleeding, too,” Allaband told Carroll. “Part of why we're bleeding more this year is because we've had so many capital improvements. We spent money here at the park. We purchased St. Anthony in the Hills. We have grants, and grants require matches. We built the police station. We're spending money. Fortunately, we have money to spend, but we've needed almost a million dollars to balance the budget, and that is not good news.”
Although the $166,100 contribution to the Avondale Fire Department's EMS division is far less than what was requested, it's still a major jump from what the township has given in previous years. Beginning in 2010, the township funded EMS for $100,375; increased to $110,500 from 2015 to 2018; and rose to $112,700 in 2019.
The sentiment expressed by audience members – many of whom are affiliated with the Avondale Fire Department – was that the supervisors need to better assess the overall value of an effective EMS service for their fellow residents.
“I'm sure that if you were to survey the residents of New Garden Township and ask them 'Would you prefer to have Saint Anthony in the Hills, or would you prefer to have an ambulance show up at your house when you really need it?' you're going to get people saying that they need an ambulance to show up at their house,” one audience member said.
“So you as New Garden Township supervisors need to make a decision on what you value more and what service you will provide to the residents of your township. This is not the first time you have heard this, and this will not be the last time you will hear this.”
Allaband was asked if the board has given any consideration to the idea of dedicating a portion of the expected $29.5 million the township is due to earn from the sale of its wastewater system to Aqua Pa., Inc. to the Avondale Fire Department, once the sale of the wastewater treatment facility is finally completed.
“There has been some preliminary discussion as to how it will be invested and located,” he said. “With regards to the $29.5 million, we're not there yet, so I'm not guaranteeing it, and over the past four or five years, we've incurred many legal fees and documentation, so it's not going to be $29.5 million, but it will still be a very large windfall.
“Yes, I believe that some of it should go back into the community,” he added. “I think that fire and ambulance would be a good place to start. I think that bridges and roads would be a good place, as well.”
Two supervisors expressed great concern about the additional funding the township is giving the fire department for its EMS service.
“Fifty thousand dollars is a lot of money to give someone when they’re having that much of an issue running their business,” said Michael Loftus, who dialed into the meeting by telephone and suggested a six percent increase in funding. “I want to hear answers on how they’re going to improve it, creative answers on how they’re going to do their billing.
“How forward of them to commit to ask for that. On the day of the budget meeting, they show up with their hand out, and I think it’s preposterous.” (It was immediately clarified that the 90 percent request in funding increase by the fire department was asked for in August.)
“When you presented this budget, it didn’t give me a lot of confidence that you knew how to run a business,” Pat Little said. “You may be the greatest firemen in the world, but as far as knowing how you spend your money, I question that. I also have very little confidence that it’s not going to happen next year.
“I’m going to agree to the $50,000, but very reluctantly,” Little added. “I am very skeptical of your ability to run this business and keep it at a level so that the same thing doesn’t happen next year.”
“I work for a construction company that has revenues from $50,000,000 to $100,000,000 a year and I am second in command,” Carroll responded. “I know my numbers and I know the Avondale Fire Company, and we run as tight a ship there as possible.”
Carroll said, and asked Little to provide specifics that support his argument.
“Well, just look at the numbers,” Little said. “I don’t have confidence in your ability to run the business.”
“But you’re not giving me any substance to your statement, Sir,” Carroll replied. “Name something of substance, or else you should not be talking like that.”
Little then changed his vote to “No.”
“They need to fix something, other than coming to us every year,” said Loftus, who also turned down the $50,000 increase. Allaband and supervisors Rich Ayotte and Randy Geouque voted in favor of the increase.
In addition to the $50,000 increase, the board and Carroll agreed that the township will set up regular budget meetings with the fire department in 2020, in order to find other possible avenues of cost savings to the department.
The board also discussed the possibility of enacting a dedicated township EMS and fire tax in the future. If a tax is eventually introduced, Allaband said that it would likely be agreed upon and determined by the board and the fire department. Otherwise, he said that it could be introduced as a township referendum.
In finalizing the township's 2020 budget, the board passed on two non-mandatory options that were presented to them in September, as part of Kennett Library's capital campaign, that if enacted by the township would raise about 4.8 percent of the $15 million needed to build the new library.
The options for New Garden were to institute a .3 mill real estate tax in the township for a period of three years, which would be added to the capital costs needed to fund the building of the library, at a rate of $58.98 a year per household; or make an annual contribution of $241,478 for the next three years to the library’s capital campaign which, at the end of those three years, would amount to $724,433.
Instead, the township will continue make an $81,000 contribution to the library in 2020, based on the passage of a library referendum in Nov. 2017 that created an annual dedicated tax of about $20 per household that is projected to generate an additional $80,000 in revenue to the library.
The referendum read: "Do you favor increasing New Garden Township's real estate property tax by 0.100 mills, the revenue from such increase to be used exclusively to fund the operation of the Kennett Library?" It went into effect in 2018.
To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, email firstname.lastname@example.org.