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It’s Never Popular to Raise Taxes…

That’s how Newtown Township Supervisor Jen Dix prefaced her comments regarding the passage of the 2018 Budget at the January 24, 2018, Board of Supervisors (BOS) meeting. The budget includes two new taxes: 0.55 mills for fire hydrant maintenance and 0.45 mills for the Newtown Ambulance Rescue Squad (read “Newtown Ambulance Squad Seeks Additional Funding”). That brings the total millage to 4.5 for 2018.

...But Newtown Township Still Has One of the Lowest Property Tax Millage in the Area

The chart above compares the 2018 property tax millage of Newtown Township to several other local municipalities each of which - like Newtown - has a 1% Earned Income Tax (EIT).

It's All Relative. Or Is It?

My neighbor called me after the meeting and said “So, I hear from Mike Gallagher that you are raising my taxes by 40%.” “Not quite,” I said. “Last year I paid maybe $119 in township taxes [0.0035 x $34,000 assessed value] and in 2018 I will pay $153 [0.0045 x $34,000 assessed value], which is actually more like a $29% increase if you are talking in relative terms. But it’s only an additional $34 per year in absolute terms!” I then reminded my neighbor that as an HOA Board member I was working on a plan to save her as much as $200 a year on trash collection – that’s SIX TIMES as much as the tax increase. “So, I’m actually saving you $167 per year if you factor that in!,” I said.

Dedicated Taxes Offer Transparency

What’s often quoted as Newtown's “Real Estate” tax millage is actually composed several components dedicated to specific funds or projects. These are (1) 2.625 Mills for debt service purposes (to pay off loans for road improvements, and other projects), (2) 0.875 Mills for fire protection (Fire Chief’s salary, health insurance, etc.), (3) 0.55 Mills for fire hydrant maintenance, and (4) 0.45 Mills for the Newtown Ambulance Squad. 0.0 Mills are collected for "general" purposes. Thus, residents know exactly what they get for their taxes. This was emphasized by Newtown Township Manager Kurt Ferguson previously (read “Newtown's 'Volatile' Sources of Revenue”).

“I think our goal going forward is to keep our property taxes as low as possible,” said Ms. Dix, “but also use common sense about how we are spending our money and investing in the community.”

Kyle Davis, who cast the single nay vote, commented that “we need to keep vigilant and fight extra hard to keep it were it is and not catch up with our neighbors.”

Speaking of catching up, Supervisor John Mack stated that he was “very appreciative of the fact that we are giving more money to the Newtown Ambulance Squad [NAS], which is something we really do need to do in order to catch up with our neighbors.” Evan Resnikoff, NAS Chief of Operations, said the Squad’s paramedics on average earn $3.75 per hour below market rate for Bucks County and EMTs average $4.00 per hour below market rate. Mack pointed out that NAS “must be competitive to survive. For me that’s a no-brainer.”

Putting a Bandaid on a Bullet Hole

Chairman Phil Calabro gave the audience a bit of a history lesson. “A budget does not go bad over night,” said Calabro. He pointed out that for the past eleven years the budget has been dwindling and at one point the reserve fund was almost empty. He spoke of assets that had to be sold to balance the budget even though the assets generated income every year. He spoke of occasions when the Township could not make payroll!

“For the past 10 or 12 years they [the previous Board majority members] have been putting a bandaid on a bullet hole!,” He said. Who knew he was a Taylor Swift fan!

Calabro noted that by having dedicated taxes for the ambulance squad and fire hydrant fund, the Township will be getting back about $300,000 into the General Fund to be used for much needed projects and maintenance, such as the purchase of a new dump truck for snow plowing, repair of the Police station roof, upgrading Veterans Park, and other improvements.

“If we don’t stop the bleeding,” said Calabro, some day will be forced to “catch up” with other local municipalities with much higher Millage rates.

You can listen to all the comments made by Supervisors by viewing this video clip.

Download the Approved 2018 Budget Here

Newtown Ambulance Squad Will Comply Fully with Health Disaster Emergency

It Will Distribute Free Narcan as Needed

On January 10, 2018, Governor Tom Wolf declared a 90-day health disaster emergency to deal with the opioid crisis (see here). The declaration allows EMS personnel to leave behind naloxone (tradename: Narcan) for “at-risk” opioid overdose patients who refuse to be hospitalized after being rescued. This is critical because the patient can overdose again after being rescued - the original dose of Narcan can wear off. EMS agencies that elect to do so must also provide the person with specific instructions to follow, as well as the package insert for directions on how to administer naloxone.

According to Evan Resnikoff, Chief of Operations for the Newtown Ambulance Squad (NAS), the type of Narcan NAS carries is in a form that is for healthcare provider use only and funding for Narcan packages suitable for consumer use was not available from the Commonwealth when the declaration first went into effect. Consequently, NAS stated that it would not participate in this program unless funding is available to purchase the proper dosage form of Narcan, which costs about $50 per dose retail.

Therefore, as a Newtown Supervisor, I was prepared to make a motion that the Township set aside a special fund for use by the Newtown Ambulance Squad to (1) purchase dosage forms of Narcan appropriate for use by non-medical people - i.e., family members, friends, caregivers, etc. - when those doses are not available for free from other sources and (2) pay, as needed, for educational programs such as, but not limited to, training residents in the use of Narcan.

This would not have been unprecedented. Recall that at the January 10, 2018, Board of Supervisors meeting, Township Manager Kurt Ferguson stated that he could “administratively approve expenditure in the several thousand dollar range” to cover the cost of Narcan for the Police Department should Bucks County no longer supply free Narcan to Department (see here).

Fortunately, funding became available and on January 24, 2018, Mr. Resnikoff informed the Newtown Board of Supervisors that his Squad will participate fully in PA's Health Emergency Declaration program and leave behind Narcan for at-risk patients who refuse to be hospitalized.

Video of Resnikoff's Statement to BOS

John Mack

john@johnmacknewtown.info

215-808-0859

www.johnmacknewtown.info