Odds are you didn’t know that Borough Council recently held a budget meeting. So, likely it’s news to you that council proposes to under fund our police and fire departments.
The economy is strong, the Borough has a budget surplus but council has decided that now is the time to cut funds for public safety. Borough council will be meeting this Tuesday at 7PM to finalize the budget. Since you ( like most residents) missed the budget review meeting, the Tuesday council meeting is your only chance to tell council that West Conshy values the safety of our homes.
When council tells the police and fire departments to make do with less, it is clear what will happen. With less police staffing there will be more traffic problems and more crime. Cut back the fire department and they will be forced to respond slower, which means fires will be more serious and there will be more loss of life.
Like you, I wasn’t at the budget meeting. It is my understanding that when it comes to the police force council’s position is that West Conshy already has too many police for a borough our size. Maybe that’s true and maybe it’s not (there are regulatory requirements we have to meet). Regardless shouldn’t we the people decide that, rather than forcing the police department to downsize in an arbitrary manner due to council imposed budget restrictions?
When it comes to the Fire Department, council has decided to under fund various expense line items from between 20% and 40%. Council’s reasoning? Because there is a banquet room over the fire hall (that is used for almost all public events in the borough) that must be inflating the fire department’s expenses by 20% to 40%. Were did council get these cost percentages? As far as I can tell, they made them up. What makes these arbitrary expense cuts more interesting, is council’s decision to close all the equipment escrow accounts and co-mingle them with the general funds.
If you haven’t heard, the volunteer firefighter model is broken. All volunteer fire departments have major staffing issues. For decades, various commission studies have recommended that fire departments adopt a regionalized model. On the one hand, fire departments have been doing their best to back each other up to over come limited staffing resources. On the other hand, our commonwealth form of government makes regional solutions difficult. Individual municipalities will always remain responsible for public safety.
What does borough council hope to accomplish by under funding public safety services? If you force the volunteer firefighters out of business what will replace it? Our council seems to be betting that Conshohocken Fire will take up the slack. Ignoring the fact the Conshohocken already depends a great deal on OUR fire department. Also ignoring that there is a major river, with only one bridge, separating us which will hardly provide rapid response times to emergencies.
Getting adequate pubic safety staffing is a complex issue. Council can’t “fix” this problem by random budget cuts. It’s safe to say that a fire department fully staffed with career firefighters will be significantly more expensive than a volunteer or partial volunteer staffed model. Slowly driving our fire department out of business and assuming that Conshohocken or some other fire department will just pick up the slack is asking for a disaster. Not to mention that all our property insurance rates will go up significantly should the borough’s ability to respond to fires be degraded. If there is a loss of life due to a fire in one of the many office high raises in the borough, any semi-competent lawyer will make our little budget surplus a distant memory.
Join me and your neighbors, on Tuesday, in telling borough council to stop being penny wise and pound foolish. Cutting funds for public safety benefits no one and raises the cost of property insurance.