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Chambersburg Borough Council approves 2012 budget with personnel cuts, no tax hike

December 19, 2011|By C.J. LOVELACE | cj.lovelace@herald-mail.com

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. — A Chambersburg Borough Council decision Monday night will keep property taxes steady for the sixth straight year, but it has some officials wondering at what cost.

By a 7-3 vote, the council adopted its proposed 2012 budget during a special meeting before about 20 people at borough hall.

Council members Glenn Manns, Elaine Swartz and Sharon Bigler voted against the measure, which avoids a tax hike by cutting a dozen borough positions, including eight paid firefighters, three unfilled positions within the police department and one recreation department position.

Borough taxpayers turned out in droves to a council meeting about a month ago when the cuts to emergency personnel were announced, but the bleak financial outlook has kept the majority of council members from supporting a tax increase.

“It’s not that anyone wants to jeopardize lives,” Councilwoman Peggy Shank said before the vote. “It’s just that we are backed into a corner and it’s very difficult to come up with a solution that would please everyone.”

Property taxes will stay flat at 20 mills of assessed property value. One mill equals $1 for every $1,000 of assessed value, which is different from appraised value.

Bigler has been vocal during the budget process about the detrimental effects that the cuts to first responders would have on public safety.

“I’ve always said I don’t know how anybody can put a price on public safety,” Bigler said. “I’ve never understood it. I’ve lived in the borough my entire life and I live here because … we’ve always had a paid fire department.”

Although the budget calls for the cuts, fire officials have until July 1, 2012, to decide how to deal with it, according to Borough Manager Jeffrey Stonehill.

“They have the first half of the year to work out … how we are going to do this,” Stonehill said. “We knew we couldn’t resolve it by Jan. 1. It’s too complicated. So what we did was put enough funding in the budget so that the layoffs are not until halfway through the next year. Between now and July, we’ll need to come up with a way to deal with the elimination of those positions. We’ll get working on that now that we have a budget.”

The three unfilled police positions were vacated via retirement and will not be filled. The one recreation department employee will be given the opportunity to apply for other borough positions, but there are no guarantees that he or she will remain employed, Stonehill said.

Chambersburg Mayor Pete Lagiovane questioned Emergency Services Chief William FitzGerald, who was in attendance, about the possible effects to response time in one year’s time. FitzGerald concluded that there is just no way to accurately predict that at this point.

“It’s not as easy an answer as you might think,” he said.

Stonehill said the only way to keep response times comparable to current times is by increased usage and involvement of local volunteer firefighters in surrounding municipalities.

“We have not met nor do we have plans on how that would work, but that’s where the answer is going to lie,” Stonehill said. “We have our own volunteer firefighters housed in the borough … but we also have surrounding fire companies such as Fayetteville, Marion and New Franklin. The fire chief will ultimately put together a plan (on) how to deal with this by July, so we have some time.”

If Philadelphia and Pittsburgh are subtracted, 90 percent of the state is covered by volunteer fire companies, Council President William McLaughlin said.

“We do what we need to do. We make decisions that we need to make,” McLaughlin said.

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