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No new taxes in Chambersburg, but no new police or firefighters, either

October 28, 2008|By DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. -- There will be no new taxes in Chambersburg in 2009, but concerns over a shaky economy also mean there will be no new police and firefighter positions until at least 2010.

"I think we have to hold the line in 2009," Councilwoman Elaine Swartz, the wife of a sergeant with the Chambersburg Police Department, said in arguing to approve a preliminary budget without the positions. "We can operate with the people we have ... We have to protect their pensions. We have to protect all our employees' pensions."

"No one anticipated the turn the economy was going to take last month," said Councilman Glenn Manns, a retired borough police sergeant. The borough needs more police and firefighters, he said, but his constituents already face rate hikes for natural gas and electricity next year.

The police officers were not to be hired until mid-year and the firefighters in the fall, Borough Manager Eric Oyer said in a budget presentation two weeks ago. While adding the positions in 2009 would not raise property taxes from the current 20 mills, Oyer told the council the positions would mean a 2-mill increase in 2010.

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The money allocated in the $11.6 million general fund for two police officers and three firefighters will instead be placed in unallocated cash reserves. The cost of a police officer, including salary, benefits and other costs is $96,100 a year, while each firefighter costs an additional $77,200, Oyer said two weeks ago.

"We've built out the borough, and with the development comes more and more responsibility," said Mayor Peter Lagiovane. He asked the council to approve the budget with funding for the positions and to re-examine the issue next year.

Lagiovane, who oversees the police department, said a department study recommended increasing the force to 36 officers, up from 31 now. Councilman Tom Newcomer, the former mayor, took issue with the conclusions of that study and said officers could be used more efficiently by changing schedules.

"I believe it is time to exercise caution," said Council President William McLaughlin. "How can we fund new positions in the general fund when money may have to be set aside to keep pension plans solvent?"

The borough has pension obligations of more than $1 million a year, but three-quarters of the money to pay them comes from the state, Oyer said. If the state cuts its payments, the borough is still obligated for the $1 million, he said.

Also on hold until an economic recovery occurs are plans for an aquatic or major renovations to the municipal pool, a new police station and renovations to the borough hall, McLaughlin said. In past discussions, council has been told funding those and other construction projects would require a bond issue.

Still in the budget is $125,000 to renovate a house the borough owns next to the Borough Hall on South Second Street. The building will be used for office and storage space for the police department, Oyer said.

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