Baldwin council members debate more than budget numbers
By Stephanie Hacke
Published: Tuesday, Nov. 20, 2012, 8:56 p.m.
Decisions surrounding the 2013 Baldwin Borough budget were not made lightly.
Heated debates and lengthy discussions punctuated municipal budget meetings, as council members took each issue to task before deciding in a split vote last week to add an additional officer to the 24-member Baldwin Borough police force in March 2013.
Council also agreed, in a split vote, to include an extra $50,000 in next year's road program, which now totals $800,000.
“It's really a situation where no rock has been left unturned,” Baldwin Borough Manager John Barrett said.
Borough officials have reviewed every aspect of the $10,867,935 million general fund budget, he said.
There is no increase in borough real estate taxes for 2013. However, once the tax rate is balanced to “revenue neutral” to meet requirements of the new countywide reassessment, officials do plan to take an additional 5-percent windfall — which likely will equal about $233,075. The final millage is not yet known for 2013, but it will decrease from 6.61, Barrett said.
The 2013 budget, which council Vice President Michael Stelmasczyk said he thought had “something in it for everybody,” included the start of a five-year capital improvement program in Baldwin next year which would finance road paving, rock salt and facilities improvements. The capital improvement plan also included a planned reserve for future expenditures.
“One of the backbones of that program would be trying to get a capital reserve. It would be just your resource to go to when you have those one-time expenditure needs,” said Barrett, who recommended placing Baldwin's year-end surplus into the capital reserve program.
The capital improvement program, with $1,677,213 in expenditures in 2013, would include several one-time revenues from the capital reserve, grant fund and escrow accounts.
Yet, when presented, the latest copy of the 2013 budget did not include funding for an additional officer for the Baldwin police force.
Council members John Conley, Bob Collet, Ed Moeller and Larry Brown, in a consensus — or informal vote where council members each state their opinion until a majority decision is reached — voted to include an additional officer in the 2013 budget.
Earlier this year, police Chief Michael Scott, who was not at last week's meeting, requested an additional officer to replace a person on disability. On a typical day, only three Baldwin officers are on patrol in four zones in the borough, the chief has said.
An additional officer likely would start in March, costing the borough about $58,000 in 2013, Collet said. A new officer's annual salary would be about $70,000.
Though, some council members questioned the need for an extra officer.
Stelmasczyk presented the number of assists from neighboring police departments to Baldwin and Baldwin police's assists out of the community.
“For every assist in, we assist 2.05 times....We're becoming the community's police force,” said Stelmasczyk, who recommended that “an actual force study” be done to compare the size of departments in like-sized boroughs before an officer is added.
Others questioned the numbers Stelmaszyk presented, saying that the same communities were not compared on each list.
Councilman John “Butch” Ferris questioned the idea that only three officers are at times covering four borough police zones — even accusing the police chief of lying.
“And I'll tell him right to his face,” Ferris said.
Mayor Alexander Bennett defended Baldwin police.
“It's very upsetting to be a 30-year police officer here and have you talk about the police officers the way you do,” Bennett said. “To run this job with less than four officers on the road is dangerous.”
Resident Bob Ieraci told council members that public safety comes before numbers.
“Baldwin has an odd shape. They just have to be around. I just think it's ridiculous to go using numbers,” he said.
“In my mind, there is no difference between this and any other business,” Stelmasczyk responded, also calling council's decision “financially irresponsible.”
Moeller said he was offended by that comment.
“It gets old when anytime someone doesn't agree with you that it's not responsible,” he said.
While the budget included increases in funding to the initially planned $750,000 Baldwin road paving program, those were not set to occur until 2015 when the program would increase to $1 million.
Collet recommended an increase be made to next year's paving program.
The decision was made to increase funding to the 2013 road program by $50,000 with Collet, Moeller and Brown and Conley supporting the idea.
Stephanie Hacke is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-388-5818 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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