DUBOIS – The Pennsylvania Economy League (PEL) presented a summary of the DuBois City and Sandy Township Consolidation Study to the public on Tuesday evening.
PEL representatives answered questions they received ahead of the meeting during their presentation. Additional questions were answered afterwards.
Interested stakeholders could attend the meeting in-person at the DuBois Country Club, or via teleconference or live web stream.
“… This study is just the first step in the process,” said Lynne Shedlock, director of communications for PEL. She said while the consolidation was feasible, it was still a decision to be made by DuBois City and Sandy Township residents.
She added if the two municipalities would proceed with the consolidation process, additional steps would have to be taken. It was noted consolidation of fire departments was studied by a separate group.
PEL recommended use of “home rule,” if the city and township consolidate into a new municipality.
PEL projected revenues for both DuBois City and Sandy Township through 2025. Projections were based on:
- no new taxes;
- no new staff positions;
- no new capital projects; and
- wage/salary increases per existing collective bargaining agreements.
PEL noted that the 2020 deficit was attributed to capital projects in the budget. Without new taxes, DuBois City will reach a point where its revenue will stop keeping up with expenses in 2025.
It was also projected that Sandy Township will face a similar issue, only more quickly. Both police department and healthcare costs are projected to push the township into a deficit by 2023.
That deficit is projected to continue growing until it approaches a quarter-million dollars by 2025. The township will also have another hurdle, as the state Township Code caps its millage at 14.
Currently, the township’s millage is 13 mills for general tax, meaning it’s approaching the point of being unable to increase taxes without court approval. The city’s cap is 30 mills.
PEL said if the municipalities consolidate, there would be a net tax decrease. The new municipality is projected to cover its expenditures with a 16.06-17.60 millage rate.
Additionally, the PEL estimates an annual savings totaling $500,000 by just eliminating duplicate positions through buyouts or attrition. The lower tax rate could then potentially lead to increased development opportunities.
“One reason you would … [consolidate] is to maintain and grow your tax base,” said Shedlock.
Later in the presentation, PEL indicated that under Home Rule, the new municipality would have a tax system based more on earned income taxes versus property taxes.
Water and Sewer
PEL projected some Sandy Township residents would save as much as $400 annually on water/sewer-related costs. This would occur with utility rates and property taxes going towards water/sewer infrastructure.
“All Sandy Township residents who receive water/sewer through the township will see lower rates,” said Shedlock, pointing out the various types of water/sewer customers within the township.
- water/sewer customers through the township but billed by DuBois City;
- water/sewer customers billed directly by DuBois City;
- Treasure Lake residents who receive water through Aqua America, a private company;
- residents who aren’t connected with water and/or sewer.
PEL noted Treasure Lake residents wouldn’t be affected because their water service will continue through Aqua. This would also include not directly financing capital water projects.
Nick Sohyda, Mount Lebanon fire chief, presented the consolidation study for DuBois/Sandy fire departments. Here, the study focused on increasing efficiency and simplifying matters for volunteers, though much information was still to be uncovered.
Sohyda recommended a “unified” fire department similar to the DuBois City Fire Department where each department is part of the same structure.
This, he said, was different from Sandy Township, which has several fire departments that work together and with the township.
Sohyda said the first and greatest advantage would be one unified chain of command, rather than having four or five different chains of command.
He did point out any independent stations couldn’t be forced to consolidate, if a new municipality is established.
Per Sohyda, the new municipality could either leave independent departments as-is, or attempt to force a consolidation by cutting off funding and decertification.
If an independent station would be decertified, he said its members can no longer legally respond to fire calls within the municipality.
Sohyda said the consolidation of fire departments would tentatively reduce the need of volunteers to raise funding to keep afloat.
“That would be the goal for the long-term,” Sohyda said. “That volunteers would never need to raise a dollar ever again.”
Plans would also mean the hiring of a fire administer who would seek and apply for grants for the new fire department and maintenance/replacement of its apparatus.
The report indicated that in this part of the United States, fire apparatus should not be over 25 years old due its wear and tear on them.
Currently, there are several in the area between 20 to 26 years old and several others that are close behind at 15 – 20 years old.
Sohyda reported it would cost $11.65 million to replace these vehicles, or $466,000 if replacement is spread out over several years.
In his presentation, Sohyda left the closure of stations as open ended, though he had a map depicting the overlap of each of the nine stations’ coverage areas.
With the standard expected coverage range of a fire station, he believed three stations should be able to cover the same area.
While he didn’t recommend forcing station consolidations, he did suggest it was an option over repairs and replacements of buildings and equipment.
“We know a lot of firefighters are volunteers, and volunteerism is dying in this age,” Sohyda said.