The September 15th meeting of the Lower Saucon Township Council was again sparsely attended. Aside from the council members, the township staff and the police chief, there were only about 14 people present. That included state representative Milou Mackenzie. She was apparently there to toot her own horn about how available she is to help township residents with whatever it is they need. Yes, we know. That’s your job. Too bad so few people could hear her remarks.
The other unfortunate thing about the dearth of listeners was that this was the meeting where the 2022 draft budget was presented by Director of Finance Cathy Gorman. This is the time to get a good idea of where your tax dollars will be going next year and to make any suggestions of alternatives. Sadly, there are very few township residents who are now adequately informed.
Ms. Gorman provided a review of the current financial state of the township as well as an analysis of where it will be at fiscal year end (December 31). She then went into detail about each of the items in the budget. I know – not scintillating Netflix stuff, but this is the stuff that counts, People!
Once Ms. Gorman finished, Mr. Carocci spoke up with his laundry list of changes that he wanted to see in the proposed budget. They included a 2.5% salary increase for township employees, a $5-10/hour increase for Solicitor Treadwell, an additional $25,000 for the fire department, $20,000 additional for road maintenance, and an increase of either 5% or 7.5% of library funding with a matching percentage from Hellertown.
[NOTE: These numbers are from my notes of the meeting. As of this writing, the minutes of that portion of the meeting are missing on-line so I can’t verify them against the draft minutes. I’ve asked Ms. Huhn to post the missing pages so that they are available for comparison.]
Mr. Carocci also proposed a bonus of $2500 per township employee to be taken from the additional funds provided by the American Rescue Plan, separate and apart from township expenses. This would be as a thank you for surviving Covid. It would cover 21 employees (administrative, police and public works) for a total of $52,500 but would not affect the township’s operating budget.There was no substantive opposition from anyone on Council to any of these changes so Ms. Gorman said that she would produce additional scenarios of the budget with the suggested changes for review. FYI – the township expects to have approximately $1.65 million as a beginning balance going into 2022, so none of these changes make a substantial difference in the township’s financial situation.
More on the budget and what to expect at Wednesday’s Council meeting below.
The other item of significance on the September 15 agenda was the presentation of an estimate to retrofit Council chambers to support interactive livestreaming of Council meetings. There was only one proposal submitted which was by the firm that had done the previous audio-visual work in the township building. The estimate was for $17,500 to provide the capability to both livestream meetings and to have interactive feedback from residents who are watching the livestream. Mrs. DeLeon and Mrs. Stauffer in particular have been adamant about the need for such a capability. And in fact, the dramatic drop in residents who participate in Council meetings, from an average of about 35 to 40 during Zoom meetings to a recent average of about 14 or 15, underscores the need for ease of accessibility to the meetings. It has been very disappointing that, even though Mrs. DeLeon and Mrs. Stauffer have repeatedly pointed out the need to get such a capability in place, we are now 3-1/2 months beyond the return to in-person meetings with no solution on the horizon, exacerbated by the other Council members’ deafness to the need (or perhaps their lack of desire) for such a capability.
That said, and I am a strong supporter of livestreamed, interactive meetings, Mr. Carocci raised a few salient points, most importantly that he was uncomfortable with only having one estimate for a project like this. He also expressed concern that it was not clear who would manage such a system and whether the township had the in-house technical capabilities to make sure it was operable. After considerable discussion of those points and others, the motion was tabled and Ms. Huhn was instructed to get at least two other estimates from other companies. This is a prudent move. Without in-house expertise on such a system, it will be difficult for the council to understand what exactly they’re paying for or whether any training that is purchased will be adequate. In addition, although it was not brought up in the discussion, I found it concerning that the only estimate provided indicated there would be at least an 8-10 week lapse before the project could even be scheduled by the company. Add to that the time to complete the project, and we’re looking at sometime in the new year before we have any hope of seeing a livestreamed Council meeting. Hopefully, other companies will be more responsive.The rest of the meeting concerned mostly housekeeping issues and the Council was eager to adjourn as the lights had already flickered in the midst of a raging thunderstorm.
That said, let’s take a look at the next meeting which includes approval of the 2022 budget on its agenda. This is a bit of a surprise since for quite a few weeks, the October 27 meeting has been identified as the budget approval meeting on the township website. That designation has now disappeared from the website to be replaced with Wednesday’s vote. I wonder why. Last year it took place in late October.
The budget is up on the website along with Wednesday’s agenda. It includes two scenarios – one that includes a 2.5% salary increase for township employees and a 5% increase for the library and one that includes a 3% salary increase for township employees and a 7.5% increase for the library. What is also included in the budget are a bunch of items tagged “funding to address IT security recommendations.” Totaling those line items that are identified as IT or, under Data Processing, major equipment and software, there appears to be an increase of $26,790 over the same costs last year and, compared to the numbers that were presented at the September 15 meeting, an increase of $23,090. That’s a big change in just 3 weeks.
The question that pops to mind is: is this a result of the investigation into the data breach over the summer? There has been no report on the results of that investigation nor does there appear to be any report scheduled for the October 6 meeting. Perhaps we’ll find out on Wednesday what required such a big adjustment.
A smaller question is related to a 72%+ increase in the Council Expenses line. Nothing related to that was raised in the budget workshop session either.
All of these questions are why there really need to be more people paying attention to what’s happening in the township.
Next Township Council Meeting – Wednesday, October 27, 2021 – 6:30 PM at Town Hall
Next General Election – Tuesday, November 2, 2021. Mail-in ballots can be returned as soon as you receive them.