Chambersburg council negotiates 2012 budget

November 28, 2011|By JENNIFER FITCH |
  • A crowd of about 60 people attended the Chambersburg (Pa.) Borough Council meeting Monday night. The borough faces a $1.4 million deficit in its 2012 budget and is considering layoffs.
Photo by Jennifer Fitch

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. — Further negotiations Monday night over the Borough of Chambersburg’s 2012 budget spared one position in the police department and started the process to get rid of firetrucks instead of firefighters.

Emergency Services Chief William FitzGerald told the council he would prefer to purge his department of one ambulance and two firetrucks if he could avoid layoffs of up to eight paid firefighters in July 2012.

The equipment is rented, so those rental agreements could be canceled to save money, Borough Manager Jeffrey Stonehill said.

In budget documents, Stonehill said layoffs of eight firefighters in July 2012 would save $311,938 in the budget. That amount would require 1.75 mills of property taxes to fund.

A mill represents $1 of every $1,000 assessed property value.

The borough council, which will spend about $99 million next year, is grappling with an anticipated $1.4 million deficit. It is trying to decide whether to raise taxes beyond the current rate of 20 mills or make personnel cuts.

A package of possible cuts presented by Stonehill would:

• Eliminate two open police officer job slots

• Provide only half-funding for a third position

• Eliminate a clerical employee position in the police department

• Lay off eight full-time firefighters mid-year

• Cut 25 percent from the recreation department

Some council members said they’d prefer to wait until mid-2012 before making labor decisions, saying they can’t fully predict the tax collection rate or who will retire.

“We’re all concerned with what 2012 is going to bring,” Councilman Tom Newcomer said.

Mayor Pete Lagiovane, who oversees the police department, said knowing whether the “half” position could be preserved affects planning.

“To have that loss of a police officer position hanging over our heads all year is going to make it difficult,” Lagiovane said.

Because an arbitrator’s recent decision regarding salaries and benefits resulted in an unanticipated $31,599 financial benefit to the borough, that money should be committed to maintaining the “half” police position that would otherwise be eliminated in July, Lagiovane said.

“To do otherwise is holding the police department and all the emergency services people hostage,” he said.

Council President William McLaughlin disagreed and lamented the down economy.

“Good times are not here. The future does not look bright,” he said. “I feel making a commitment for something six months from now is totally premature.”

Ultimately, the borough council voted 7-2 to preserve the “half” position and remove mention of its cut from the budget. The council unanimously agreed to authorize FitzGerald to pursue canceling the vehicle rentals.

“The public service the Borough of Chambersburg deserves and gets on a daily basis can’t be preserved” with the layoffs of eight people, FitzGerald said. Public services like education and inspections are important, he said.

The final budget is expected to be voted upon Dec. 19.

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