Reading On Course For $35 Million Cumulative Deficit By 2017

A 1947 topographic map of the Reading, Pennsyl...

A 1947 topographic map of the Reading, Pennsylvania area. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Reading is on course to amass a $35 million cumulative deficit by the end of 2017 even if it raises property taxes by 5 percent a year, controller Christian Zale told City Council on Monday.

The budget likely will be $1 million short this year and $1.4 million short in 2014, but Zale said the city’s own fiscal cliff comes in 2015, when it expects a $10.2 million deficit.

That will be repeated in 2016 with a $10.9 million deficit, and again in 2017 with an $11.4 million deficit, he said.

“Now is the time to address the 2015 cliff, (and) also ensure future decisions do not exacerbate these projected deficits,” he said.

Read more:  http://readingeagle.com/article.aspx?id=469810

Nearly 5,000 Pennsylvania State Workers Paid $100,000-Plus

HARRISBURG – Nearly 5,000 Pennsylvania state employees earned at least $100,000 last year, and more than one-third worked for one of the 14 state-owned universities or the system that oversees them, a newspaper reported Monday.

The number of employees with six-figure earnings has more than quadrupled since 2002, when 1,176 people fell into that category, The Patriot-News said in stories posted on its website.

“What you see is pretty much how recession-proof that (state government) sector may be,” said Lonnie Golden, a professor of economics and labor studies at Penn State University‘s Abington campus.

In the newspaper’s analysis of data from the state-government transparency website PennWATCH and the state courts, payouts for severance and unused leave time as well as job-related, non-salary income were counted as part of employees’ earnings.

Read more:  http://readingeagle.com/article.aspx?id=458306

Property Taxes To Rise Across Philadelphia Suburbs

English: Pennsylvania county map

English: Pennsylvania county map (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Hundreds of thousands of property owners in Bucks, Chester, Delaware, and Montgomery Counties are getting something they probably don’t want in the new year – higher real estate taxes.

Countywide increases, approved in December, affect the owners of all 382,304 real estate parcels in Chester and Delaware Counties.  Some people are taking a double hit, as at least 27 towns in those counties also have increased taxes.

Bucks and Montgomery Counties kept their rates the same, but at least 28 municipalities raised real estate levies.

While the reasons vary, officials say the overarching reason is basic: Revenue is down; costs aren’t.

Read more:  http://www.philly.com/philly/news/politics/suburban_pa/20130128_Property_taxes_to_rise_across_Philadelphia_suburbs.html

Reading Weighs Accepting Grant For More Firefighters

A 1947 topographic map of the Reading, Pennsyl...

A 1947 topographic map of the Reading, Pennsylvania area. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Editor’s note:  We can’t predict the future. Take the money, hire the people and hope for the best!

Spending a $4 million federal grant to the city is not as easy as it seems.

The problem is not what the grant would do – hire 30 new and badly needed firefighters for the next two years, adding more personnel to each truck – but what happens to those firefighters when the grant expires.

Fire Chief David Hollinger and City Council labored over the issues Monday night.

On the positive side, the grant does not require the city to keep the grant-paid firefighters after the grant runs out in March 2015.

Read more:  http://readingeagle.com/article.aspx?id=443754

No Pottstown Tax Hike Due, In Part, To 3-Year-Old Report Says Council President

Location of Pottstown in Montgomery County

Location of Pottstown in Montgomery County (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Editor’s note:  And also due to the tireless efforts of Jason Bobst, Janice Lee and Dan Weand for fixing the broken accounting system.  Imagine what Pottstown could become if Council President Toroney followed the ULI Report recommendations!

POTTSTOWN — Borough Council President Stephen Toroney credited a 2009 consultant report on the borough’s finances for starting Pottstown down the road to what he considers a landmark achievement, that was made official Monday with the adoption of a $38.5 million that does not raise borough taxes for the first time in recent memory.

Councilman Mark Gibson, who, as a paid driver for the Empire Fire Company could be said to benefit financially by voting for the budget, which makes contributions to the fire companies, abstained from the vote.

But the budget, officially balanced at $38,530,729, otherwise received unanimous support from the remainder of council.

Read more:  http://www.pottsmerc.com/article/20121214/NEWS01/121219662/no-pottstown-tax-hike-due-in-part-to-3-year-old-report-says-council-president#full_story

Lancaster General Health Compensation: Plenty, But Not Out Of Line

For the guy who just opened a $300 bill from Lancaster General Health for five minutes worth of blood work, the six- and seven-figure compensation for top LGH officials may be enough to get that blood boiling.

But LGH’s compensation appears to be in line with industry standards.  In fact, you might make a case that Lancaster General President and CEO Tom Beeman is underpaid.

To put LGH compensation in context, Lancaster Newspapers compared it with compensation at five regional hospitals or health systems about the same size as Lancaster General: Wellspan Health, in York County; Pinnacle Health, in Dauphin County; Reading Health, in Berks County; Lehigh Valley Health, in Lehigh County; and the Milton S. Hershey Medical Center, also in Dauphin County.

The figures show that Beeman got less than the top executives at four of the five comparable institutions.

In 2010, Beeman made $1.35 million in total compensation.

Read more: http://lancasteronline.com/article/local/791279_LGH-compensation–Plenty–but-not-out-of-line.html#ixzz2EfKsV6QH

Police Union, Pottsville City Council Share Ideas In Effort To Avoid Officer Layoffs

View of Pottsville, Pennsylvania.

View of Pottsville, Pennsylvania. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Following a one-hour, closed-door meeting Thursday night, members of Pottsville Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 44 and the city council have come up with a few concepts that might save jobs, according to FOP President Brian Kotzmoyer.

“It was a very positive meeting,” Kotzmoyer said.

“Both sides realized we’re doing our best to try to avoid layoffs. The officers put forth some ideas about cost-savings initiatives and some things they can do to generate more revenue on our end,” said Councilman Mark Atkinson, who chairs the council’s public safety committee.

When asked for his thoughts after the meeting, Councilman Michael P. Halcovage, who chairs the finance committee, said: “We’re just throwing around ideas.  I can’t give you any specifics.”

Read more:  http://republicanherald.com/news/police-union-pottsville-council-share-ideas-in-effort-to-avoid-officer-layoffs-1.1413124

Pottstown Police Department Versus Scranton Police Department

Editor’s note:  Scranton had a population of 76,089 according to the 2010 census.   The city is 25 square miles.  According to Citydata.com, Scranton had 150 police officers and a department of 170 as of 2010.   The crime rate in Scranton for 2010 was 275.7 (US average is 319.1).

Scranton currently has an acting Chief of Police whose salary is the same as the permanent Chief who stepped down three months ago.  The salary for running a department of 170, in a city of 76,000 people is $81,073.

Pottstown had 22,377 residents according to the 2010 census and is 5 square miles.   Pottstown had a police department of 46 officers (58 total) per Citydata.com’s data for 2010. Pottstown’s crime rate for 2010 was 539 (US average 319.1).  

Pottstown’s Chief of Police/Acting Borough Manager is already making more than $100,000.00 a year.

The cost of living differences being taken into consideration, Scranton is 3 1/2 times the size of Pottstown in population, 5 time as large as Pottstown in area and has a police department 3 times the size of Pottstown’s and yet Scranton’s Chief of Police makes $20,000 less a year than Pottstown’s???  We won’t even get into the difference in the crime rate between the two (HINT: Scranton is safer).

Does this not illustrate why Pottstown’s budget is grossly over inflated?  Does this not indicate paying a new borough manager way more than Jason Bobst was making is fiscal insanity?  

The mayor of Scranton, who is the chief executive and not a ribbon cutter like Pottstown’s Missy Mayor, makes $81,872 (far less than Jason did) and he runs a city 3 1/2 time the size of Pottstown.  And trust me, running Scranton is more challenging than running Pottstown.

Pottstown Borough Council might as well start a bonfire in Smith Plaza, throw the taxpayer’s money in, make a few s’mores and call it a day!

Here is the link to the article about how Scranton is handling their police department: 

http://thetimes-tribune.com/news/in-scranton-no-intention-of-changing-police-chief-status-1.1402117

Many Questions About Jason Bobst’s Departure

Location of Pottstown in Montgomery County

Location of Pottstown in Montgomery County (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Editor’s note:  Below is a Letter to the Editor in today’s Fishwrap.  We give two big Roy’s Rants thumbs up to Glenn Mooney of Pottstown for raising his very valid points.  There is far more to Jason’s story, but unfortunately we will never know all the details.  Pottstown politics are nasty and people get tired of beating their head against a wall.  Sometimes you just have to walk away to preserve your own sanity.  Mr. Toroney has learned nothing from Jason’s departure.  We can only hope enough new people get on Council in November to pick a new Council President.  It’s time to clean house!

Referring to the most recent Mercury article by Evan Brandt, dated Aug. 15, I have some questions not about his report but about the mayor and borough council’s account of losing Jason Bobst.  Let me understand, Councilman Toroney stated, and I quote from the article, “He did a fantastic job for us.  But age and experience were not on his side.  He didn’t have the battle scars.  We need someone with experience who has the wherewithal to do a good job for us.”  My bet is Jason could elaborate quite a bit about battle scars!

This sounds a little funny regarding whose choice it was for his leaving Pottstown?  Then we have Mayor Bonnie Heath and Jeff Chomnuk stating that the borough has begun to gain traction in its recovery efforts, due largely to the efforts of Bobst and Finance Director Janice Lee.  Hhmm?  These comments were to help justify going outside to hire a new manager at a 30-percent higher salary.  Then Mayor Heath stated and I quote, “It’s actually kind of an awkward fact that we were paying Jason less than $100,000.”

Read more: http://www.pottsmerc.com/article/20120901/OPINION02/120909989/many-questions-about-jason-bobst-s-departure

Management Raises For Pottstown Government Vary From Zero To 14 Percent

Location of Pottstown in Montgomery County

Image via Wikipedia

Editor’s note:  Kudos to Jason Bobst for trying to lead by example and forgoing a raise in 2012.

POTTSTOWN, Pa.  — In a year that police officers saw a 3 percent salary increase and borough workers 2.1 percent, some borough managers and supervisors are enjoying pay increases as high as 14 percent, including a 10 percent raise for a supervisor recently convicted of drunk driving.

A review of management staff wages for 2012 shows a wide disparity in the raises provided to the non-union staff.

The information was provided to The Mercury through a Right-to-Know request made by former code enforcement director Jeff Smith.

According to the information provided by the borough, the highest increase — 14.2 percent — went to grants coordinator Erica Weekley.

Read more: http://www.pottsmerc.com/article/20120309/NEWS01/120309539/management-raises-for-pottstown-government-vary-from-0-to-14-&pager=full_story

Pottstown School District Preliminary Budget Has 4.2 Percent Tax Increase

Location of Pottstown in Montgomery County

Image via Wikipedia

The problem with this PSD budget number is that it is above the 2.4 percent increase allowed by the state.  If Mrs. Adams can’t “whittle” down that figure any further, the board will need to ask permission from the state to make an exception and allow a larger tax increase.

The big picture here is that Pottstown Borough Council just passed a budget with a 1.68 percent tax increase.  Pottstown Borough and Pottstown School District occupy the same geographical area and the residents of Pottstown are not just getting one increase, but TWO.  Even if Mrs. Adams can get to the state mandated 2.4 percent increase, taxpayers are on the hook for a 4.08 percent increase.  I am guessing possibly higher.

As Councilor Rhoads has pointed out time and again, most people have a finite amount of money to work with each year.  With the current state of the U.S. economy, finding extra money is very difficult.  Pottstown has a large percentage of senior citizens on fixed incomes.  We also have a large percentage of low-income residents and residents below the poverty level.

People are having to make choices between food, heat, housing and taxes.  This is flat-out wrong.  This spending addiction pissing contest between the Borough of Pottstown and the Pottstown School District is killing the average Pottstown resident.  We are on the edge of the cliff staring down at the bottom of the ravine.  There is no where left to go except down in flames or move out of Pottstown, if that option is even available.  Many people are too financially strapped to even escape.

We do not need four fire companies nor do we need five elementary schools and two annex buildings.  Are we looking at job performance?  If we are not getting enough bang for the buck would outsourcing services make more sense?  We cannot afford all these salaries, benefits and pensions, which make up the lion’s share of both organization’s budgets.  We haven’t even felt the pain of the upcoming pension crisis with the school district. 

The economy is not going to improve fast enough to save the day.  We need long-term financial solutions for both taxing entities in this town.  Frankly, I am not seeing enough effort being made to address these very serious problems that impact 22,377 people by either entity.

Hollywood’s War Of The Wages

Jennifer Lopez at ISC Miami.

Image via Wikipedia

The second season of a Simon Cowell-free “American Idol” started this week. Cowell ditched the popular talent show last year to launch a U.S. version of his British music competition “The X Factor,” which he vowed would attract 20 million viewers. It fell short, topping out at 12 million. Now there’s word that the new “American Idol” judges, Steven Tyler and Jennifer Lopez, had been joking backstage that they would be “devastated” if they didn’t get 20 million viewers. (They did for the season premiere, but just barely.)

Lopez may be winning the ratings war, but Cowell is winning the war of the wages. The music executive earned $90 million last year thanks to “The X Factor,” which he owns a share of, and his record label, Syco. Lopez earned $25 million. Most of that came from “Idol” but she also has several movies coming out and a new clothing line.

Read more: http://tv.msn.com/tv/article.aspx?news=697139

Pottstown Is Not The Only Municipality With Fire Department Budget Woes

A New York City fireman calls for 10 more resc...

Image via Wikipedia

Pottstown has struggled with its Fire Department budget for some time.  The debate over merging fire companies to cut overhead has been suggested.  Currently Pottstown has four fire companies with paid drivers and administration.  The majority of the firefighters are volunteers.  The borough gives the four fire department money and pays the health insurance for the drivers.  Each fire company must then raise any additional funds themselves.

Scranton, Wilkes-Barre and Allentown have obviously larger fire departments with more paid staff.  Volunteerism is down.  A huge problem these three cities have experienced is a drastic increase in overtime.  Scranton’s Fire Department racked up just under one million dollars in overtime for 2010 (more than double what was budgeted).  The Scranton Fire Department had a budget of $14.3 million for 2010.

Allentown’s Fire Department overtime budget was blown in 2010 when $1.4 million was spent on overtime.  Wilkes-Barre spent $322, 958 on overtime which was nearly double what was budgeted.

A big culprit is sick time.  Sick time use in Scranton has been rising for the last three years.  When one firefighter calls out sick, another firefighter is called in and paid overtime to cover the shift.  Scranton is changing their schedules, minimum manning requirements per shift and instituting fire company brownouts to save money this year.  Only $83,950 was included for Fire Department overtime in the city’s $74.9 budget for 2011.

The Scranton Fire Department blames being a 168 man department with only 150 firefighters on the payroll.  Overtime was being used to “make up the difference”.  Like Scranton, Allentown also has minimum manning requirement per shift which contributes greatly to their overtime.  Wilkes-Barre Mayor, Tom Leighton said his city experiences a 25-30 percent call off rate in every shift, which burns up overtime.

In Scranton, the average firefighter costs the city $84,000 in salary and benefits every year. This will increase substantially after the arbitration award kicks in.  Mayor Chris Doherty’s salary and benefits come to about $65,000 per year, as a point of reference.  Firefighters get 18 sick days per year, which can be accrued up to 120 days, 240 days or unlimited, depending on their hire date.  Firefighters get paid for unused sick days at the termination of their employment.  They are reimbursed anywhere from 25 percent to 100 percent, depending on their date of hire.

I hope Pottstown Council carefully studies these issues before making the paid drivers employees of the borough.  If this comes to pass, we need to learn from these three cities to avoid a bill we cannot afford.