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Apollo slashes spending to avoid tax hike

Rob Amen
| Saturday, Nov. 29, 2003

APOLLO: Residents can expect to see fewer police patrols in the borough as early as next week.

Councilman Bill Whitlinger said Friday that council agreed on Tuesday to reduce services involving the police department, street committee and fire departments, among other items, next year because of a projected $35,000 budget deficit. Whitlinger said Mayor Don Careatti was given notice to begin cutting back hours of part-time police officers in December.

"Because of the fact our projection on the cash didn't look too favorable, we asked them to cut December's schedule so we could keep our expenses under control," Whitlinger said. "We don't have the funds to keep going at the pace we were. Understand that the pace we had as far as police was probably as expensive per capita as any police force around.

"We tried in the past to have a police force that would serve almost the entire day. We had the best coverage around for the community, but we just can't afford it anymore."

Police Chief Robin Davis declined comment on the situation except to say, "I'm working in December. The police department will be functional."

She referred questions to Apollo Mayor Don Careatti, who could not be reached either at home or at the borough office Friday.

Whitlinger said the police department, which employs only Davis full time, usually is budgeted for between 130 hours and 140 hours per week for its officers. Under the projected budget -- it won't be finalized and voted upon until Dec. 30 -- police hours decrease to between 110 hours and 120 hours per week.

"We're still above most municipalities our size," Whitlinger said of police coverage. "The alternative was raising real estate taxes. The opinion of everyone (on council) was to cut services."

Council also reduced the solicitor's budget. Salaries of borough employees were slashed and money for crossing guards was eliminated, Whitlinger said.

"Everyone had to pay a price for next year," he said. "We're not going to make next year unless we did something to account for the funds not there.

"We reacted to the problem. The only thing off the table, not to be considered, was an increase in real estate taxes."

Whitlinger said the borough would have to raise real estate taxes 3 mills to compensate for the deficit. One mill equals about $13,000 in revenue, he said.

Whitlinger said allocations to the police department accounted for 34 percent, or about $167,700, of the borough's $493,260 budget this year. Police department allocations are projected to account for 28 percent, or about $136,000, of the borough's $485,679 budget next year.

That would equate to about $31,700 in savings. Reports from Tuesday's council meeting suggested that cutting "extra patrolmen wages" would equate to more than $56,000.

Whitlinger said the street committee accounted for 28 percent of this year's budget and will account for 24 percent of next year's budget, about a $21,550 savings, according to budget figures.

To accommodate that loss, Whitlinger said the two full-time street committee workers -- Eric Andring and Lyle Rusz -- will be laid off 26 days apiece next year.

"How we determine when to lay them off, whatever it is, that hasn't been decided," Whitlinger said. "It won't be in the winter."

The borough's usual $7,500 contribution to the fire departments will be cut in half, Whitlinger said. That means each fire department will receive $1,875 next year instead of $3,750.

"Is it going to mean life or death for us• No," said Rusz, who also is fire chief of Apollo Hose Company No. 3. "Thirty-five hundred barely pays our gas bills for the winter, if that. But every little bit helps.

"We haven't gotten together, both fire departments, but I can tell you one thing: If this stuff does get cut, all the little things that happen for the borough now, the side things ... that won't happen. We do that for the heck of it to help out. If they're going to stick it to us, we're not going to do it."

Whitlinger said even if the projected cuts are passed, council could reopen the budget if Debra Schrecengost, who was elected to a seat earlier this month, requests to do so. Schrecengost would need a majority vote to reopen the budget, Whitlinger said.

"If she's going to have to make decisions during the year based on the budget ... I think she has the right to input on this," Whitlinger said. "I would probably vote to open it."

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