SANATOGA PA – Down in Phoenixville, just 13 miles southeast of Sanatoga village, the borough council has ordered its police department to make $200,000 in cuts from next year’s budget. In the opposite direction – only 7 miles north and outside Gilbertsville – New Hanover township supervisors have already laid off one police officer and are considering the possibility of eliminating the entire force.
Between the two sits the Lower Pottsgrove (PA) Township Police Department, with a budget that’s increased every year for the past three years and is expected do so again in 2011.
Police expenses under next year’s tentative general fund budget, approved Nov. 18 (2010) by the Board of Commissioners, total $2.26 million and represent the single largest cost of the municipal government. At the budgeted amount, they will consume 41 percent of Lower Pottsgrove‘s overall $5.39 million spending plan.
The budget is due for commissioners’ final approval next month (December 2010), and budget documents are available now for public inspection during regular business hours at the municipal building, 2199 Buchert Rd., Pottstown PA. If the budget is finally approved, as seems likely, its policing component will probably sail through untouched.
Why are things different here than elsewhere? Township officials and outside observers offer several reasons:
- Commitment and confidence. Anyone who regularly attends the commissioners’ first meeting of any month, at which Police Chief Michael Shade provides a report, can attest that board members openly talk about their commitment to heightened public safety. They also can describe the praise regularly offered for the chief, whom the board likes, respects, and believes is – in the words of Commissioner James Phillips – “doing a great job.”
- Public recognition. Joe Everyman seems to think highly of the department as well. Two out-of-towners penned notes during September, commending Lower Pottsgrove officers for assistance they rendered. The FBI contacted Shade in August, inviting his second-in-command, Lt. Michael Foltz, to attend the agency’s prestigious national academy. A father in July thanked the department for saving his 18-year-old son’s life in a medical emergency. Shade, who is as politically astute as the board he works for, ensures commissioners are copied on all such correspondence. There’s something good in nearly every month’s packet.
- Earlier cost-cutting. Although it includes a 4.25-percent contractually mandated salary increase for patrolmen that alone adds $43,012 to personnel costs, the department’s total 2011 budget is only $37,578 higher (less than 2 percent) than its 2010 budget of $2.22 million.
- A big piggy bank. To support public safety and all other components next year, without raising accompanying property taxes, the board will prop up the general budget with $621,450 of savings from the township’s fund balance. 2011 marks the fifth consecutive year commissioners have relied on such unreserved cash; they’ve pumped a total of $2,467,296 into Lower Pottsgrove’s budgets since 2007. Few other townships have that kind of money handy.
The police budget includes salary and overtime costs amounting to about $1.42 million. Of that, $1.13 million is for patrolmen’s salaries; $100,862, chief’s salary; $89,644, administrative assistance and clerical help; $80,000, overtime; and $18,200, longevity payments. The department employs 17 full-time officers, according to the township website.
Varied insurance costs eat up almost $405,000 of the police budget. Of that, $308,500 is for hospitalization; $48,762, worker’s compensation; $17,603, liability insurance; $13,479, disability insurance; $11,739, vehicle insurance; $3,175, life insurance; and $1,575, unemployment compensation.
Also during 2011, the department is prepared to spend about $60,000 – $20,000, or 33 percent, more than the $40,000 it budgeted in each of three previous years – on special counsel and legal fees. The extra sum includes what Shade thinks it will cost for Lower Pottsgrove’s finest to become a professionally accredited law enforcement agency.
Only 18 of more than 50 Montgomery County law enforcement agencies are accredited so far, according to the Pennsylvania Law Enforcement Accreditation Commission.
Related (to Lower Pottsgrove Township’s 2011 budget):
- To Protect And Serve Cots Township $2.26M In 2011
- Five Years Of Lower Pottsgrove Budgets At A Glance
- Garbage Claims 7.5% Of Lower Pottsgrove’s Budget
- No Change In Town’s 2011 Base Tax Rate, But Bills To Rise Slightly
- State of Lower Pottsgrove’s Budget? Hurting, Not Wounded
- Pass The Excedrin. It’s Budget Time In Lower Pottsgrove