Newtown News Update


Welcome to the December, 2019, issue of Newtown News Update. Back issues and subscribing information can be found here.  If you do not wish to receive further updates, please use the "Unsubscribe" link at the bottom of this email. The opinions expressed here are solely the those of John Mack and do not reflect the opinions of any other person or entity.

The Newtown Zoning Hearing Board (ZHB) postponed a decision until January 2, 2020, regarding the application for variances by Durham Partners Group, LLC, to build twenty seven townhouses on a 5-acre parcel of land located at 413 Durham Road in the PS-2 (Professional Service) Zoning District. Recall that the Newtown Board of Supervisors voted to send its Solicitor Dave Sander to the ZHB meeting to oppose the plan (read "Newtown Supervisors Oppose Plan To Build 27 Townhouses"). Mr. Sander will have the opportunity to cross-examine the developer's expert witness at the January meeting.

Summary & Analysis of 2020 Preliminary Budget

Newtown Township's Board of Supervisors (BOS) is scheduled to vote on the Preliminary 2020 Budget at the December 11, 2019, public meeting. This might be the last chance for Newtown Township residents to have a say in the matter.

In this article, I offer a summary and personal analysis of the budget numbers. You should refer to the official Preliminary Budget on the Township website (here) to see and analyze the data firsthand. Also read “Newtown Township Begins 2020 Budget Review Process” in the October, 2019, issue of Newtown News Update.

Revenue vs. Expenditures

The 2020 budget projects a revenue of $12,031,386 – not including a transfer of $2,372,029 from the reserve in the General Fund – versus $13,081,611 in expenditures (see Tables and Figures below). The result is a deficit of $1,050,225. This continues a "deficit spending trend" that was noted by Jack Brod, member of the Newtown Township Finance Committee, at the November 23, 2019, BOS meeting.

For several years General Fund reserves have been used to cover the deficits when spending exceeds income. The preliminary 2020 budget projects a year end reserve fund balance of $1,342,706, which is about 10% of General Fund expenditures. Although this satisfies the 8-10% requirement that is codified in an ordinance passed by the BOS several years ago, the Government Finance Officers Association (GFOA Definition) Best Practice recommends, at a minimum, that general-purpose governments, regardless of size, maintain unrestricted fund balance in their general fund of no less than two months (16 percent) of regular general fund operating revenues or regular general fund operating expenditures.

Meanwhile, Mr. Brod, in a 2018 report to the BOS, suggested the “safe harbor” for a General Fund balance/reserve should be 30-40% of the operating budget (view video: “Newtown Township Finance Committee Report”).

View the Video of the Newtown Township Finance Committee Report

Table 1: Projected 2020 Revenue According to 2020 Budget. (1) includes state aid for pensions, “foreign fire insurance premiums”, and PennDOT plowing income; (2) includes income from fire prevention inspections, CRSD school resource officer, and building permits; (3) includes land development fees, Zoning Hearing Board fees, and plan review fees. The “deficit” is the TOTAL Revenues from this table minus the Total Expenditures from Table 2. Refer to the Preliminary 2020 Budget for details.

Figure 1: 2020 Budget Revenue Pie Chart. Resident and Non-Resident Earned Income Tax (EIT Definition) and LST (Local Services Tax payable by all individuals who hold a job or profession within Newtown; currently $52 per year) account for nearly two-thirds of the total revenue.

Table 2: 2019 versus 2020 Expenditures. These are numbers from the respective budgets and may not represent the actual expenditures. Note that “Parks & Rec” expenditures include staff salaries and benefits, program costs, and park maintenance. Administration includes Legislative Body (Board of Supervisors) stipends and expenses, executive staff salaries, and building/plant maintenance costs. Employee Benefits include police, firefighters, and non-uniform pension plans. Refer to the Preliminary 2020 Budget for details.

Figure 2: 2020 Budget Expenses Pie Chart. Police Services and Administration expenses account for over 60% of the total expenditures budgeted for 2020. One new police officer was hired in 2019. BOS Chair Phil Calabro suggested that looking to the future "we will have to expand our police force by a few more officers." If given a blank check, Police Chief John Hearn said he would ask for four more officers in 2020. See the video of Mr. Calabro's and Chief Hearn's comments here.

Figure 3: 2020 versus 2019 Budgeted Expenses. This chart shows major increases or decreases in expenses from 2019 to 2020 for several budget categories. Increases in Parks & Recreation expenses are mostly due to increase in support staff salaries and medical insurance. For Police Services, most of the increase is due to an increase in management and support staff salaries. The Employee Benefits decrease is mostly due to reductions in pension plan expenditures. Refer to the Preliminary 2020 Budget for details.

Dwindling Reserves

Figure 4: Dwindling Reserve Funds. The budget continues a "multi-year pattern" of deficit spending, said Brod at the November 26, 2019, Board of Supervisors meeting.

The General Fund account is "essentially a reserve fund that the township has been tapping into to offset the difference between revenue and expenses," said Brod. He quoted the year-end reserves in the General Fund for the years 2016 to 2020 (projected), which are plotted in this chart.

Video: Thoughts on Newtown Township's Deficit Spending

Planning for the Future

“With the progressively diminishing general fund balance,” said Mr. Lewis, “we have significantly cut back expenditures in the proposed 2020 budget to offset projected shortfalls.” It is clear that this practice is not sustainable. Hopefully, the proposed Financial Analysis and 5-year budget plan will offer alternatives (read “Newtown Township To Develop a 5-Year Financial Plan”).

Econsult Solutions, Inc. (ESI), an economic consulting firm, responded to Newtown's Request for Proposal to develop the plan.

ESI developed a 5-year plan for Pottstown Borough that reviewed the Borough’s existing tax structure and made recommendations to mitigate the need for future real estate tax increases to remain competitive for new business investment. The report included an in-depth review of the Borough’s economic development efforts and recommended strategies to expand the local tax base.

Newtown Twp is considering hiring ESI to Newtown Township is considering hiring ESI to develop a 5-year budget plan.

[Coincidently, the Marseglia-Harvie (Bucks County Commissioners-elect) Transition Committee has named Newtown resident Steve Wray of ESI as Economic Development Chair (read more about that here).]

Representatives from ESI will attend the BOS Work Session on December 16, 2019, to review the proposal for the Newtown Township 5-year financial plan and to answer questions from supervisors and the public.

The FIRST Meet Mack Monday will take place on Monday, December 9, 2019, at the Corner Bakery Cafe, between 2 and 3 PM.

Join me for coffee and learn more about the proposed 2020 budget as well as other items that are on the agenda of the December 13, 2019, Board of Supervisors meeting. I will also answer questions about opportunities to serve on Township boards, committees, and commissions. Other topics will be discussed as needed and comments from residents are welcomed.

If you can't meet me, respond to my survey: Issues of Importance to Newtown Township Residents, which asks respondents to rate the importance of several issues impacting the quality of life in Newtown Township, including:

  • Bringing New Business to the Township
  • Communications Between Residents/HOAs & Board of Supervisors
  • Condition of Roads
  • Keeping Taxes Among Lowest in Bucks County
  • Prescription & Illegal Drug Abuse
  • Preservation of Open Space/Curb Overdevelopment
  • Quality of Drinking Water
  • School Safety
  • Snow Removal/Plowing
  • Speeding and/or ignoring Stop Signs in Residential Areas
  • Support for Youth Activities & Programs
  • Other issue


Take the Survey Now!

John Mack