Explanation sought for police budget shortfall

By on July 27, 2011

By: GARY KLINGER Review Correspondent, Staff Writer

Denver Borough Council members were informed at Monday night’s meeting that the borough will be billed an additional $17,410.22 above the budgeted $508,000 for police coverage through the regional police force.

While council members were united in a call for a more thorough explanation of the overage, some, including council president Kevin Brandt, expressed support for the quality of protection afforded.

"I think the (police) chief needs to explain this," said Brandt. "But I am not opposed to it. I would just like to better understand what happened so that we can avoid this in the future."

Both Brandt and Mayor Adam Webber said they are very satisfied with the degree of police presence, noting they feel very safe and secure.

The joint police force provides protection for East and West Cocalico townships as well as Denver and Adamstown boroughs. Each year those municipalities budget for their portion of the overall police bill based on tabulations supplied by the force. The portion each municipality pays is based half on population figures and half on the numbers of calls for service the year before.

In cases where the final end of year costs are less than projected, each municipality is refunded their portion of the difference. Unfortunately in 2010, actual costs exceeded projected costs by $109,6356.15 dollars. Denver Borough’s portion of that amount is $17,410.22.

Law enforcement officials presented officials from each municipality with a line-by- line comparison of budget versus cost to better delineate where the differences were. However, what remains unclear is the actual causal relationship behind the shortfall.

Borough Manager Michael Hession discussed his conversation with the police force.

"In dealing with these overruns, we want to better understand why they occurred and how they will be handled in the future, because our municipalities just don’t have that kind of money available," Hession noted.

Chief among concerns were overages with regard to officer salaries, overtime, holiday pay, pension overages, workers compensation overages — even overtime for office personnel.

"Understand that you are trying to get a picture of what is going to happen, not necessarily dollar for dollar, but it needs to be closer so that we can better budget and plan year-to-year," added Hession.

Council member Walter Fink was less patient on the topic.

"It just seems like they are not budgeting with themselves," commented Fink. "It seems like ‘if we need it, just do it and we will bill the municipalities for it.’"

Fink pointed out that even at the budgeted $508,000 for 2011, that amounts to just over $1,400 per day for police coverage. He questioned whether the borough was receiving the maximum benefit commensurate with the cost.

Fred Wagaman, chairman of the borough planning commission, and Frank Blaylock of Lancaster County Planning Commission updated members on their work toward a new ordinance which would deal with alternative and renewable energy systems within the borough. Work on the new ordinance began 18 months ago, with close cooperation between the two planning commissions as well as the borough solicitor producing a rough draft.

The planning commission carefully considered various energy systems in formulating its draft, including wind, solar, geothermal, manure digestors and hydronic heaters. In the process, the commission carefully reviewed what other municipalities have already enacted, then considered how each possible application fit the community from a public safety and aesthetic viewpoint.

"One of the things we knew going into this was that any time you do anything with zoning you are going to put some degree of restriction," said Wagaman. "We had our eyes wide open, recognizing that there may be things people want to do over time that the zoning ordinance will say cannot be done."

For example, homeowners may find restrictions around the application of geothermal units may force a change of plans. Such units require 25-foot clearances from the unit to property lines to protect adjoining properties in the event of a leakage. However, in cases where properties are no more than 18 feet wide, such a unit could not be installed.

Wagaman explained that the purpose behind the new ordinance was to encourage use of alternative and renewable energy systems without any adverse affect on the community. With use of such units on the rise as more traditional fossil-fueled units become prohibitively expensive to operate, the borough hopes to be ahead of the curve as applications both increase and become more diverse.

"Our goal was to promote rather than restrict the use of alternative energy," explained Wagaman. "Municipalities are adopting such ordinances to assure they continue to have livable communities while at the same time encouraging use where feasible."

For Denver, Wagaman said it makes sense to allow geothermal, roof mounted solar and smaller scale wind turbines. The planning commission will also recommend a complete ban on outdoor hydronic heaters, saying they are not convenient, they are not efficient and they pose quality of life and safety issues for adjoining properties.

Not everyone is in agreement with a ban on hydronic heaters, beginning with the borough solicitor, who is concerned such a ban may prove hard to defend legally, and including a number of borough council members who would like to learn more about such systems before deciding one way or the other.

"I feel council needs more guidance on hydronic heaters," commented Hession. "The proposed ordinance prohibits it, yet the solicitor feels someone could challenge the validity of the ordinance and the borough would then have the onus of defending and proving that it was in the best interest of the health, safety and well being of the community. The solicitor does not feel it could be adequately defended. Perhaps these systems should be inserted into the ordinance as allowable in R1 and R2 but not R3 zoning districts."

Wagaman stressed that regardless of the final form the ordinance takes, it is important for the borough to get such an ordinance on the book, saying that changes and revisions can always be considered in the future. He added that such a measure is pro-active in stance, hoping to allow the borough to better deal with issues surrounding alternative energy systems as they come up.

"I agree," said Brandt. "To have nothing on the books is not a good idea. This is a very emerging trend which is going to grow considerably over the next five years. My inclination would be to adopt this but with solicitor’s recommendations. That is what we are paying her for so we need to follow her recommendations.

Fink and Barbara Palm both felt it was premature to move forward on the measure at Monday night’s meeting, requesting more time and information prior to acting on next steps.

Hession urged council members and the public to attend the Aug. 9 planning commission meeting with questions and concerns. He requested that questions be forwarded to him to be passed on to the planning commission for answer. Prior to enactment, the final proposed ordinance would need to be available for public review for a period no less than 45 days long. It would also call for a public hearing to review the details of the ordinance and allow the public to testify on what is proposed.

Council was also brought up to speed on proposed changes to the way the borough collects the Earned Income Tax (EIT). The biggest item of proposed change will include a provision to tax non-residents employed within the borough unless already taxed by the employee’s home district. Such a tax would be set at one percent as limited by law. The purpose of the changes to Denver Borough’s Earned Income Tax is to keep the local ordinance as consistent with other municipalities as possible.

For more information on Denver Borough, please visit their website at denverboro.net. Gary P. Klinger welcomes questions and comments at gpklinger@yahoo.com.

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