COOPERSBURG – With five members in favor and two against, Borough Council here tentatively approved a proposed budget Tuesday night that did not raise taxes but did increase spending.
Council members Larry Pummer, Harvey Greenland, and Dennis Balascak supported giving more money to the ambulance corps despite receiving no request for additional funds from the organization. Pummer said they need more money to hire staff. He said that in the long run it would be cheaper to fund the local ambulance corps than get a bigger bill from ambulances outside the borough. The borough gave $15,000 to the corps in 2010.
According to council member Richard Nalichowski, obtaining information from the ambulance service “almost takes an act of Congress.” Nalichowski said he repeatedly asked for reports detailing how much the ambulance corps was in use during 2010. Those reports never came, he said. For seven months in the meantime, Nalichowski said the head of the organization told him the ambulance corps was in use 80 percent of the time. Later he read a county report stating that Coopersburg’s ambulance corps was in action barely half of the time. Consequently, Nalichowski opposed giving the ambulance corps additional funding in the 2011 budget. Coopersburg is being covered by Upper Saucon Township’s ambulance service much of the time anyway, he said.
Pummer recommended increasing funds for the ambulance corps by defunding the business revitalization program. The borough awarded the program $4,500 to cover six months of 2010. The program is asking for $10,000 to cover all of 2011. According to Pummer, the state grant for the program ends this year, which will make it ineffective. Mayor Tim Paashaus and Council Vice President Jack Felch explained that state funding for the program will end, but grants for community enhancements, which program staff obtain for participating municipalities, have not ended. Therefore, they implied, employing the business revitalization program in 2011 will not necessarily be a fruitless endeavor. Felch said the program obtained $30,000 in grants for the borough in 2010.
The debate reflected a deep disagreement over what would be best for Coopersburg’s future. According to Felch, the borough is not getting a good return on the money it spends on the sewers. He said ongoing costs for sewer repairs, which have not yielded an end to the moratorium on new connections that began in the mid-1990s, are a major drain on the borough. If the borough can end the moratorium and develop, he argued, then its revenues will rise.
Felch enthusiastically endorsed the contributions the business revitalization program has made to beautify Coopersburg. “The community where I want to live in,” said Felch, supports initiatives which make Coopersburg “a nice community,” such as the store façade grant program and a vibrant library.
Balascak argued in favor of the sewer expenses and strenuously objected to the outlook of Felch’s budget. He called various income projections unrealistic and painted a picture of a cash-strapped borough “scratching for funds” by April. According to Balascak, this happens routinely. He pointed to township staff salaries and benefits as the main culprit for the borough’s dangerous financial situation. “If perks and salary increases are all you want, fine,” he said, explaining that spending millions to fund a handful of employees is no way to move the borough forward. Balascak proposed cutting township staff by one, reducing Township Manager Dawn Kresge to three-quarters time instead of full-time, laying off the road crew through the winter until May 2011, and “addressing the police pensions.” Greenland said taking care of roads and sewers were non-negotiable borough responsibilities.
However, Council President Gary Hovis objected to the debts the borough has incurred to fix the lines, and to the fact that many of the repairs have themselves needed to be repaired. Borough Engineer William Erdman admitted that new leaks can break out adjacent to old, repaired leaks. Hovis said sewer-related costs have “burdened this borough.”
Council member Linda Minarik saw no problem with increasing funding for the business revitalization program to $10,000 and the ambulance corps to $17,000 so long as the 2011 budget was balanced. According to Felch, who chairs the budget and finance committee, such increases could be made and the borough would still have a balanced budget in 2011.
Balascak and Nalichowski voted against the proposed budget, which will come up for a final vote on Dec. 14.
In other news, the council advised developer Fred Derby to consult the land and subdivision committee about a proposed multifamily project. Pummer, Minarik, and Nalichowski serve on the committee, which serves in lieu of a planning commission.
The Coopersburg Borough Council will next meet on Dec. 14 at 7 p.m. at Borough Hall.