LM discusses 32 options for nearly $7M in unanticipated funds

Following the end of a three-hour finance workshop, Lower Merion Township’s Board of Commissioners and residents are left to mull over more than two dozen options put on the table for the township’s number one question – what do to with the $6.9 million in unanticipated funds.

At the Dec. 7 finance committee meeting, Township Manager Douglas Cleland explained that he was required to present a plan to reduce the fund balance in between 15 to 18 percent because of the one-time $6.9 million, generated from business tax revenue.

At the Wednesday, Jan. 25 finance workshop, the first of two, township officials unveiled 32 options for Lower Merion to consider putting the funds toward.

Lower Merion Chief Financial Officer Dean Dortone gave a power point presentation to the 10 board members present and the less than 15-member audience.

The options presented were broken down into three funding frequency categories – one-time, recurring and a combination of the two. Of the 32 options, the following received the most comment from commissioners (check out all the options here):

  • No Township Real Estate Tax increase for 2013
  • Accelerate some Capital Improvement Projects
  • Hire a consultant to rewrite the Township Zoning Code
  • Early implementations of recommendations of Parks and Recreation’s Comprehensive Plan update
  • Additional Business District Signage and Kiosks and Township Facility Identification Signage, two
  • Provide a rebate to the township real estate tax, a motion defeated by the board in Dec. 21
  • Install new sidewalks at various locations
  • Fund more traffic improvements
  • Purchase a substantive eBook collection for the Lower Merion Library System
  • Modify the Township Storm Water Policy to include a study and/or funding of private property issues
  • Provide Board of Commissioners with paperless means of looking at agendas and information during meetings, via devices such as iPads and Androids
  • Provide citizens with online payment options by citizens for township fees

Following the presentation of options, Commissioner Scott Zelov expressed his concerns about suggestions on the list that are part of the six-year capital improvement program.

Zelov said adding to the township’s “rainy day” general funds should instead be the goal for some of the CIPs on the list, as opposed to creating a "wish list," which he said the $6.9 million produced.

“You wouldn’t know we had a six-year capital plan from this discussion tonight,” Zelov said. “I’m here surprised that we have many, many projects of the six-year capital plan on this list. We have to be fiscally responsible with this one time fund of nearly $7 million.”

Cleland explained that the options were necessary proposals in order to help achieve the general fund balance reduction.

Toward the end of the workshop, commissioners and a few audience members gave their suggestions on how they’d like to see the $6.9 million spent.

Commissioner George Manos said he would like to see the funds address four of his concerns: the City Avenue ordinance, traffic improvements and open space and the Cynwyd Heritage Trail.

In terms of trail, Manos wanted the township to provide seed money of about $25,000 in terms of organizing conceptual designs to advance the park. He wanted funds to help advanced the engineering aspect of the ordinance and traffic along City Avenue, with the hopes the money would help improve traffic by 2013.

“Here we have the opportunity to do something and put our money where our mouth is as far the township is concerned,” Manos said.

Commissioner Steven Lindner said he would like to see funds possibly look into a reevaluation of trash collection, specifically for multiple-dwelling units or complexes, especially as it relates to rear yard collection.

James Wheeler of the North Ardmore Civic Association spoke during public comment to express his appreciation that stormwater management and policy was on the table for discussion.

"I'm impressed with the sense of fiscal resonsibility of this board...and appreciate seeing the seriousness of which you are approaching this issue," Wheeler said.

Resident John Maley spoke next. Maley, who identified himself a fiscal conservative by education and trade, said that two funds in the presentation, insurance fund and the equipment fund, have been short changed for a number of years.

"You have $7 million, you have to replenish those funds, funds that are leftover in the general fund, for contingencies and for future tax problems," Maley said.

Maley, from Bala Cynywyd, also addressed one of the proposals for the funds, which was provide a rebate to the taxpayers. This motion, he thought, was a terrible idea.

"We are in a litigious township...don't even consider giving [that money] back to the taxpayers," Maley added. "We're going to pay it back one way or another."

The final public comment came from Ruth Sperber, the executive director of Eldernet, a senior services and assistance organization for residents of Lower Merion and Narberth. She proposed some funds be allocated to help with Ada Mutch Community Center devleopment and food bank.

The next finance workshop to discuss the $6.9 million is on Wednesday, Feb. 22 at 6 p.m.

Check back with Neighbors for more details on the 32 fund options.