The Challenge Of Cuts
One of the reasons the Warren County Council of Governments was formed was to help brainstorm solutions to common problems.
With a shared understanding that the fiscal health of the City of Warren will impact conditions throughout the rest of the county, city officials raised the issues that they will face in coming years to the COG last Wednesday.
“The problem is that our tax base isn’t what it used to be,” City Manager Nancy Freenock said. “Council is telling us 2015 is the magic year. (We’re) being told to cut, cut, cut. They mean personnel. That’s what we’re struggling with. These aren’t threats. These are what we, as a staff, are facing.”
Several labor agreements, including those for the police and fire department, are up in 2015.
Parks and Recreation Director Mary Ann Nau said, “The services that I represent already took a cut.” She explained the new special events process to COG members, including the element where fees incurred by the event are passed on to the event organizer.
Police Chief Raymond Zydonik said, “Everybody knows that the city, next to the state police, is the only 24 hour” law enforcement department left in the county. “A lot of our calls are becoming more time consuming,” he added, noting that municipalities requesting city support and the city asking for support have become commonplace.
“The big challenge is how we move forward,” Zydonik said. “(We’re) looking at (a) 2015 restructure or downsizing at the behest of city council. When you call 911, you don’t care who shows up, you just want help.”
Glade Township Supervisor Joe Scully asked, “Can we not somehow convince our legislators or local government to allow sheriffs (to be an additional resource)?
“They’re already busy,” Warren County Commissioner John Eggleston said. “What difference does it make if I raise taxes, the city raises taxes, the municipality raises taxes? It still comes down to where do we get the money? These costs keep going up and (people say) don’t raise my taxes. All of these things cost money.”
COG Facilitator John Zavinski asked about the possibility of a regional police force. “Again, it’s going to come with a cost,” Zydonik said, indicating that the concept is “certainly something we should talk about.”
Eggleston explained bills introduced in the state legislature previously have explored giving sheriff departments police power. “(That’s) the first step in the state police leaving,” he claimed. “They’ve tried to do that.”
“Certainly one size does not fit all,” Zydonik said.
The City of Warren fire department is in a similar situation. The EMS service of the department responded out of the city limits 516 times last year. “We respond all over the county,” Joe Beardsley with the department said. “We go all over the place.”
That type of regionalization comes at an ever-increasing cost.
“We can’t go back to our taxpayers and (say) pay more and pay more,” Freenock said. “That’s not a solution.”
“What all politicians need to do is confront citizens (and ask) ‘What do you want to pay for?'” Eggleston said.
Clarendon Borough Councilman Paul Pascuzzi noted that the representatives from the city are “department heads. They are not elected officials. It is the elected officials that need to address us at a peer level.”
“These cross boundary issues are real,” said Alan Kugler, the COG’s facilitator.