PENNSYLVANIA'S #1 WEEKLY NEWSPAPER • locally owned since 1854

Compromise cuts police officer, codes position from borough’s budget

By Dan Miller

danmiller@pressandjournal.com

717-944-4628
Posted 11/26/19

Middletown’s short-lived budget crisis is over, after borough council Monday agreed on a compromise 2020 spending plan that eliminates two full-time positions that were proposed for next …

This item is available in full to subscribers.

Please log in to continue

Log in

Compromise cuts police officer, codes position from borough’s budget

Posted

Middletown’s short-lived budget crisis is over, after borough council Monday agreed on a compromise 2020 spending plan that eliminates two full-time positions that were proposed for next year.

Council gave final approval by a 4-1 vote Nov. 19 to a 2020 general fund budget that included adding a new full-time police officer; a new full-time codes and zoning officer; and a new part-time finance clerk.

The compromise council reached Monday preserves the part-time finance clerk at an estimated annual cost of $7,000, but gets rid of proposed new full-time police and codes and zoning positions.

That results in a savings of $190,168, according to numbers Borough Manager Ken Klinepeter provided to the Press & Journal.

The new full-time police officer was funded in the 2019 budget but the position was never filled.

On Nov. 19, Mayor James H. Curry III vetoed council’s 5-0 approval of a resolution setting the borough property tax rate for 2020.

Curry’s veto effectively blocked final passage of the budget. Without an approved tax resolution in place by Dec. 31, the borough would have no funding source as of Jan. 1 because it would have no authority to spend property tax revenue, according to Solicitor Jim Diamond.

Curry supported a budget plan that did not add new positions; it had been backed by council members Richard Kluskiewicz and Robert Reid.

However, Kluskiewicz and Reid were outvoted when council Oct. 24 voted 4-2 to advertise a proposed 2020 budget that included all three new positions.

The compromise was brokered by Curry, who called on council to find a middle ground between the majority who wanted all three new positions, and the minority of Kluskiewicz and Reid who wanted no new positions at all.

Kluskiewicz broke the logjam by proposing a motion calling for adding the new part-time finance position, which the borough sought to help the two employees who provide customer assistance on the first floor of the municipal building.

Siding with Kluskiewicz were Reid and Councilor Ellen Willenbecher. Voting no were Council President Angela Lloyd, Vice President Dawn Knull, and Councilor Jenny Miller.

Councilor Ian Reddinger was absent, resulting in a 3-3 tie that Curry broke by voting in favor of approving the budget including the new part-time finance position but not the full-time police and codes and zoning positions.

Council then by the same 3-3 tally voted on the tax resolution, with Curry again breaking the tie in favor of the resolution, putting an end to the brief budget stalemate.

During discussions leading up to Kluskiewicz’s motion, Knull proposed getting rid of the full-time codes position but keeping the new police officer and the finance clerk.

However, Willenbecher proposed that council not move forward with the new full-time police position, citing council on Nov. 19 voting 5-0 to solicit candidates for a new public safety director who would replace the police chief.

Council should allow the new public safety director “to build their own (police) department and make their own decisions” regarding new positions and hiring, Willenbecher said.

Reid during the meeting proposed going with the new part-time finance position and creating a new part-time codes position, instead of the new full-time codes position the borough sought.

Klinepeter spoke against reducing the new codes position to part-time, saying that a part-timer would not provide the experience that the borough needs in zoning and zoning law.

“We hire part-time (codes) people for high grass and trash” but what the borough now needs is a second full-time codes and zoning officer to assist with the more complex issues such as how to address chronically blighted properties in town, Klinepeter said.

The end result of Monday’s meeting was a 2020 general fund budget that Klinepeter said in all other respects is identical to the one council approved for advertising Oct. 24, except it removes the full-time police and codes and zoning positions.

The general fund budget is still balanced by transferring $1.6 million from the electric fund, which appeared to be what Curry object to most when he announced his veto Nov. 19.

Curry in his veto message had called council’s continued reliance on transferring money from the electric fund to balance the general fund budget “irresponsible,” saying the general fund budget should be balanced on its own and that electric fund money should be used to fund improvements within the electric department, such as upgrading the Spruce Street substation.