Sunday, March 21, 2010

Picking Up The Check

Unless you are living under a rock, or are independently wealthy, it should be obvious to everyone that we are in the midst of the severest recession since the Great Depression. I don't know anyone, myself included, who has not had to cut back somewhere and do more with less.

Senior citizens are feeling the pinch especially hard, since their income is fixed, and they received no COLA increase this year as their expenses continued to rise.  Many of us still in the workforce and fortunate enough to remain gainfully employed have had to forego annual raises, bonuses and other compensation that had become as expected and certain as Spring's melting of winter snowfalls.

As I drove around the Township this gorgeous weekend, I passed numerous projects for new businesses that, largely due to the economy, have stalled or evaporated. They're projects that, as proposed, would have brought much needed jobs and tax revenue to our community.

There was the proposed Turkey Hill gas station and quicki-mart that would have gone in opposite Brother Paul's. There was the new WaWa that was going to go on the former Norristown Ford property. There have been a couple of proposals for use of the Collegeville Inn property.  There was the strip shopping center that would have gone on the corner of Egypt and Pinetown Roads, and there were also several projects proposed down in the Corporate Center.

And, of course, the American Revolution Center museum project, which, while driven out more by a vocal special interest group than the economy, would have brought in the neighborhood of a million a year in revenue to the community as well as several hundred jobs.  Ouch! I think we're going to miss that.

And that's not counting some of the businesses that were viable but have closed and gone away, like K-mart, or the Hullabaloo party store.  I'm hearing that Blockbuster is nearing bankruptcy, so I guess that building may be empty soon, too.

To be sure, we've had a few new businesses locate here, but by and large, they are small, mom-and-pop type stores like the Morning Mug, Keystone Grill and the Collegeville Bakery, which don't add large-scale revenue or employment.

Keeping all this in mind, and realizing that new residential housing construction starts and the revenue they generate are at practically zero, too ... how are we, as a township and a school district, going to continue to pay the bills this year and in the next couple of years afterward until, hopefully, the economy fully recovers?

Although Lower Providence has enjoyed six years or more without a tax increase to its residents, I think it's realistic to say those days are over. The last Board of Supervisors did a fantastic job of keeping or increasing the levels of service without raising taxes for that period of time, and trying to attract and keep businesses here, but only so much can be done. Grant money has largely dried up and there's more competition for what's out there. Our federal and state governments have less to pass onto us as well.

And don't get me started on Methacton's property tax bills. Everywhere I go, that's the No. 1 complaint I hear about local government.  Yes, it even beats out the trash issue.

In fact many people think that when their tax bill increases, it's the Township's doing. Especially if you are one those folks who never sees your tax bills because they go right to your mortgage holder's escrow company for payment, you may not realize that your school property tax bill and your township tax bill are two different things. One's risen dramatically, the other has not risen at all in recent years.

Here's what I want to know. Considering that local government will have to either cut services or raise taxes, or both, what things do you think should be on the chopping block? What things as a community would we choose to do differently, put on the back burner for now, or do with less of?  And let's assume that raising taxes is not an option, shall we? I don't know anyone who can afford it at this point.

It's going to require some hard decisions, but our local elected officials will begin the budgeting process in six short it's worth thinking about now. Unless, of course, by some miracle we start attracting new business and stop driving out the ones that want to be here, as the current BOS seems to be adept at.

Do we cut back on after-school programs and sports, as some school districts nearby have done?  Do we increase class sizes and reduce staff? Forego all the cutting edge gizmos like smart boards for class instruction?

Do we reduce the size of our police force and forego some level of safety and emergency preparedness, or ask local nearby communities without one to help us share the cost of providing protection to them when called upon to do so?

Do we eliminate donations to worthy institutions like the fire department , ambulance center and library?

I think the Township staff is doing a good job of trying to manage investment revenue smartly, streamline costs, work out sourcing deals, use service vehicles as long as possible, etc. but perhaps more ideas are out there. 

I have no idea what Methacton's administration has been working on in this regard (there are only so many hours in a week, I can't attend every meeting around here), but maybe someone familiar with their efforts in this regard can enlighten us.

I'd love to hear your thoughts, and I'm sure our elected officials are listening, too.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The leadership in Lower Providence has improved since the last election. Township tax is a lower percentage compared to school and country taxes. I think the township could do more to publish where the money goes. While the township website has some good information about the source of taxes, it would be helpful to publish the facts about where the money goes before raising the taxes. Also, it would be interesting to know what tax revenue is lost by the vacant businesses before asserting tax increases are needed to cover those missing taxes (example - someone is still paying property taxes on the vacant K-Mart building).