Ruffled feathers aside, it's time to focus on the budget

Posted: Sunday, April 05, 2009

Borough Mayor Dave Carey ruffled some feathers this week with his remarks on next year's budget -- due as much to the manner in which his announcement was made as to its content.

On Wednesday, Mayor Carey announced on a local radio call-in program that his budget plan for the fiscal year beginning July 1 includes "a significant reduction in the mill rate for all property owners." He said he will ask for reduced mill rates for several service areas, including the Central Peninsula Hospital Service Area, and the reduction or elimination of funding for non-departmental organizations -- non-profit agencies the borough has funded in the past.

Mayor Carey also called for the assembly to change its stance on funding for the school district. The borough has a long history of financial support for public schools, but Carey said he would "require" the district to use up its fund balance before he would be willing to fund schools to the maximum allowed under state law.

We have concerns with the borough mayor dictating fiscal policy to the school district, which is overseen by a duly elected school board. As recent court action has shown, school district policy comes under the purview of the Legislature, not the borough. It certainly is the mayor's prerogative -- indeed, his responsibility -- the examine the funds allocated by the borough, but we would also ask that the mayor respect the school board's authority in setting the district's budget.

While Mayor Carey could have done a better job of communicating his plans to the administrators and employees they will affect, the fact is, his goals are now out there for public consumption. We need to take a hard look at his plans and watch carefully as the budget process moves forward.

Like many of the non-departmental agencies anticipating reduction in or elimination of their funding, we are taking a wait-and-see approach. It is still early in the budget process, and we want to see hard numbers.

What's more, we want to know what the impact of those numbers will be on our quality of life. We're all for saving money for property owners, but the cost of reduced services needs to be taken into account, too. For example, cutting maintenance may save money in the short term, but repairs become bigger and costlier the longer they're put off.

Putting together a budget is a process, sometimes a messy one -- making sausage is how one of our state legislators likes to describe it.

In tough economic times, it is prudent and responsible to examine every nickel and dime. We hope everyone involved in the budget process -- Mayor Carey, the assembly, borough and school administrators, and the public -- will continue to participate and be included as the process goes forward. We encourage everyone to keep an open mind as the numbers are crunched. After all, we all have the same goal: high quality services delivered as efficiently as possible.

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