Township turns around

DUNCANSVILLE – Five years ago, Blair Township supervisors declared the township to be broke because it needed to borrow money to cover the payroll and bills. Since then, the township’s financial picture has turned around.

At the end of 2013, Blair Township had $114,216 to spare in its general fund, the highest amount to carry into a new fiscal year since January 2009 when the township’s general fund account was down to $4,445.

To start 2014, the township had no need to borrow money, township Secretary/Treasurer Betty Robertson said.

“We are in a much better financial position now than we were,” she said.

Supervisors in December adopted a 2014 general fund budget of $1.19 million which kept real estate taxes at 6.375 mills, the levy established for 2010 when the county started taxing 100 percent of a property’s assessed value.

In addition, the 2014 budget has enough money in a capital reserve account that, with supervisors’ approval, could pay for a $30,000 police cruiser and as much as $30,000 for security and structural improvements to the municipal building.

In addition, the budget included a 3.5 percent across-the-board raise for the township employees.

Eric Prendergast, who ended his six-year supervisor term in December, came up with several reasons for the financial turnaround that he linked to decisions that cut spending or

saved money.

The most controversial one occurred in December 2010 to reduce the police department from five officers to four. At that time, Prendergast and Supervisor Pat Steward voted to eliminate a police officer’s job, despite protests from fellow supervisor Arlene Bush and township residents who crowded into the meeting room.

“That [decision] saved us a substantial amount of money and still kept the department at full strength with four full-time officers,” Prendergast said.

The decision to cut the full-time police officer was not the only personnel cut that has made a difference, said Supervisor Richard Lasek, who won the seat that Bush held and joined the supervisors board in January 2012.

The township used to pay former supervisors who regular full-time and part-time hours in the office. While that option remains available, it’s not being used and the township has been saving money as a result, Lasek said.

Another change that helped the township finances, Prendergast said, was the 2012 introduction of employee contributions toward health care insurance and pensions.

The 2014 budget information indicates that employees will pay 5 percent of their health insurance premium. Police officers will contribute 5 percent of their wages toward retirement, and non-uniformed employees will contribute 2 percent toward their pensions.

“That helps the township and it helps the employees because now they’re also contributing to their own retirement pensions,” Prendergast said.

Lasek also added that at this time, the township’s pension plans are well-funded.

Another factor that made a difference in the township’s finances, Prendergast said, was the purchase of the Wye Switches building to become a highway maintenance garage. The township previously leased a structure and former supervisors spent money in pursuit of multiple sites that didn’t work out.

Robertson, who keeps track of the township’s bills and budget, said the township’s healthier budget is making a difference in day-to-day operations.

In 2013, the township was able to rely on its capital reserve account and some supplemental funds to buy a $27,503 for a generator that will keep the police department and municipal office running during a power outage. Other improvements included $8,120 for lighting at the municipal office and highway building; $7,418 to replace municpal office and police department computers and $3,235 for landscaping around the municpal building.

A factor that will help the township’s 2014 budget, Prendergast and Lasek said, is the end of the township’s five-year obligation to allocate 50 percent – approximately $52,000 – of its Local Services Tax revenue, to the Duncansville Volunteer Fire Department. That agreement was made when former supervisors were interested in forming a joint Blair Township/Duncansville department, but the plan was abandoned.

The end of that obligation, as of November 2013, means supervisors can allocate the 2014 LST revenue, estimated at $108,000, as they want, as long as they meet obligations outlined in the law which created the tax. Supervisors have already decided that 2014’s revenue will be divided equally between the police department and the highway department.

Prendergast, who chose not to run for a second six-year term, also offered one more reason for the township’s financial turnaround.

“Secretary Betty Robertson deserves our thanks,” Prendergast said. “She made sure we always checked with her anytime we wanted to make any major purchases, and she was always able to factor them in and show us whether the budget would be able to accept them.”

Mirror Staff Writer Kay Stephens is at 946-7456.