Despite Public Concerns about Lack of Additional Police, Fire Funding Sugarcreek Borough Passes 2017 Budget As Is

| December 22, 2016

Sugarcreek Borough
SUGARCREEK BOROUGH, Pa. (EYT) – Sugarcreek Borough Council voted 4-1 at its meeting Wednesday to approve the 2017 budget at $2.9 million with a tax increase of one mill to six mills and a tax rate of 55 cents on each front foot assessment for street lights in Rocky Grove and Reno.

The budget that passed – with council members Larry Baughman, Bogan Gougler, Howard Barger, and John McClelland voting in favor, and councilman Bob Resinger opposed on the grounds that council should go back to its original 2017 budget – was the same one presented at the meeting two weeks ago. It restored money for the police department that had been slated to be cut in the initial 2017 budget but still came in around $6,000.00 less than last year’s budget for the department of $426,510.00. It also included the $30,000.00 – $15,000.00 to each department – additional monies for the Reno and Rocky Grove Fire Departments, an increase of 150 percent over last year’s $20,000.00.

But, it also wasn’t what most of the estimated 40 people in attendance wanted to see happen.

Led by Rocky Grove Fire Chief Jeremy Simchick and Reno Fire Chief Mike Garbacz, most of the public that spoke wanted to see the budgeted monies for the police and fire department raised and for a part-time officer, Joseph Highfield, to be made a full-time officer.

“I am disappointed in this budget,” Simchick, who made his feelings on the subject well known going into the meeting, said. “There was overwhelming public participation in the process, and they wanted to see more money infused in the police and fire departments.”

Garbacz said he was concerned about workmen’s compensation costs and line of duty deaths within the fire department were going and the fact fundraising money isn’t coming in.

“Our donations are down 50 percent,” Garbacz said. “We had to do away with one of our engines.”

Bridget Baker told council people wanted change.

“We are behind getting more police,” Baker said. “People want you to change.”

Barger said he was hearing differently from other people in the community who weren’t at the meeting.

“I’ve gotten phone calls from people who weren’t happy about the (tax increase),” Barger said.

More than one person who spoke at the meeting reminded council members that they – the council – works for the people and that two of the seats are up for reelection this year.

Resinger, whose council seat is up for reelection, asked if that was a threat and later in the meeting addressed the people who he thought were against him.

“I’ve done nothing but my best for yinz,” Resinger said. “If you feel I’ve done wrong, I apologize.”

Following the budget vote, McClelland proposed a motion that council revisit the police department issue in May once the borough knew what it’s insurance costs for 2017 would be like – borough manager Joe Sporer told EYT Media Monday and then the public at the meeting that insurance costs could range anywhere from a 10 percent increase to a 40 percent increase this year and that he budgeted for a 15 percent increase.

McClelland’s motion was approved, but mayor Jeff MacKenzie told the gathered public not to be too optimistic about anything changing.

“You should all be commended,” MacKenzie said. “You helped restore the funding back. But, outside of John (McClelland) there is very little appetite to expand the police department. I don’t have a vote, and I am ok with that. But it is what it is. I don’t see any appetite to expand the department. But you did make a difference. You kept us where we were at.”

Cable Franchise Agreement up in February

Sporer told council that the Cable Franchise Agreement is up in February and suggested council hire the Cohen Law Group out of Pittsburgh to help renegotiate the agreement at a cost of $6,900.00.

“Fifteen years ago when the current agreement was negotiated, council and the borough manager got 3 percent and should have gotten 5 percent,” Sporer said. “The cable companies come in and you kind of get fleeced. Cohen specializes in these types of negotiations and should be able to get us at least 5 percent, which would be $15,000.00”

Sporer said the borough currently makes around $25,000.00 on its agreement with Time Warner and that should go up at least 2 percent with the new agreement.

“The deal should also be shorter, for only five to seven years,” Sporer said. “And even with the fee to pay Cohen, we should see an increase in what we are brining in.”

Council voted to retain the services of Cohen Law Group at a cost of $6,900.00 to negotiate the next agreement.

When an audience members asked why solicitor Brian Spaid couldn’t negotiate with the cable company, Spaid likened it to hiring a divorce attorney for a criminal case.

“You wouldn’t want a divorce attorney handling your criminal case,” Spaid said. “You don’t want me to handle these negotiations. They are complex, and Cohen is one of only a few law firms in the state that specialize in this.”

Police Department Getting Two Grants

Police chief Matthew Carlson announced that the department is receiving two grants.

An $18,000.00 grant is coming from the Edward V. and Jessie L. Peters charitable trust.

“That money will go for equipment, training, school response active shooter kits,” Carlson said.

Council approved the use of the grant.

In addition, the department is receiving $59,769.00 from the A.R.L.E. Grant to upgrade the existing 15 mph school zone signs along Route 417 in the area of Rocky Grove Junior/Senior High School.

A.R.L.E. stands for Automated Red light Enforcement Program and is administered by the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation’s Bureau of Maintenance and Operations. See more information here.

Chief Carlson also said he was going to expand the Officer Phil Program to the Valley Grove Elementary Schools.

“There is no cost to us,” Carlson said.

The topics for the Officer Phil program this year are Respect, Bullying, and Stranger Awareness.

According to a handout to council, students will “enjoy a 30-minute assembly and get to meet police officers from the police department as well as Officer Phil’s pal Lucky Ducky, who will join the performer to help teach the students some of the lessons.”

The Officer Phil program has been in place for 41 years and has taught over one million students. According to the handout, one of the primary objectives “is to help police departments establish a positive relationship with the youth in the community.”

Street Lights Hit Possible Stag

The three street lights that council voted to approve for Sugarcreek Village have hit a possible snag.

“Some legality issues have entered in, so it’s hard to give a timeline,” Sporer said. “We aren’t sure if we can legally pay for them out of the general fund.”

Later in the meeting, Resinger expressed his concern about paying for them out of the general fund.

“I’m very concerned about the street lights,” Resinger said. “I feel like if we pay for them out of the general account, we will have charges pressed against us, because it not legal.

Spaid told Resinger he wasn’t sure that was correct.

“I’m looking into it,” Spaid said. “I’m not sure if it can be paid out of the general fund or not or should there be a street light tax.”

Sporer did say he was in contact with Penelec about the lights.

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