It has been many years since West Chester Twp. voters were asked to approve levies for safety services, and there are no plans to go to a ballot any time soon.
The trustees got a first glance at the spending plan for 2018 this week and were told the fire and and police departments are living well within their means. The fire department has been operating on a decade-old levy and the police levy — levies generally have a shelf life of five years — was passed in 2010.
The total budget for all funds for next year is around $45.3 million. Expenditures for the police department are projected to top $16.2 million against revenues of $13.2 million and the department will use some of its $11.6 million in reserves to balance the budget. On the fire and EMS side they plan to spend $15.3 million using $12 million in new revenues and dipping into its $14.5 million reserve fund.
Officials have not pinpointed when they might need to return to the voters to replenish their levy funds. Police Chief Joel Herzog said at the beginning of the levy it brings in more money than the department spends, but to make that levy last five years, the saved money gets spent toward the end of the levy.
Part of the reason the fire department has been able to hang onto its funds for so long is a sixth fire station — that station is still deemed unnecessary at this point — hasn’t been built. Regardless, Trustee Lee Wong praised the department for its frugality. He said it was “very commendable” that the last levy was passed in 2006.
The chiefs said the biggest challenge this year is the ongoing problem of attracting and retaining personnel.
Since fewer young people are entering into public service, the competition for qualified candidates has caused the department to “think more deliberately,” said Herzog, who added the workforce at the police department is maturing.
“It is not only critical to consider how we attract the best candidates but how we inspire young officers to become law enforcement leaders in the community for the long term,” he said.
He said they now find themselves in unfamiliar territory actively recruiting candidates from various sources like high schools and trade programs.
Fire Chief Rick Prinz said they have the additional challenge of the lack of part-time firefighters. To tackle that problem the fire department will be hiring six full-time firefighter/medics this year and reducing the approved number of part-time slots from 73 to 47.
Interim Administrator Larry Fronk said the budget as a whole represents a 1.2 percent increase over the 2017 budget, but actual expenditures last year only reached $37 million. He said the spending plan is designed to make sure the township keeps its “one of the best places to live in America” status.
“It is focused on keeping West Chester’s economy strong by investing in infrastructure, promoting development and retaining a marketable workforce and preserving property values, encouraging property maintenance and livability,” Fronk said.
Not part of the operational budget is a list of $24.6 million worth of TIF-back (tax increment financing) projects that could go this year. They include widening Allen Road from Union Centre Boulevard to Muhlhauser, a $1 million contribution to the Becket and Smith roads roundabout Butler County is constructing this year and other infrastructure projects.
The largest project on the list, $12 million to improve the Union Centre Boulevard interchange at Interstate 75, will not happen this year, rather the county engineer has it on tap for 2019.
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