Editor's note: This is the second of a four-part series leading up to the election on Nov. 5.
Two seats on the five-member Newtown Township Board of Supervisors are up for election on Nov. 5. Incumbent Mike Gallagher and Kyle Davis are running on the Republican ticket; Jen Dix and Judy Norkin are running as Democrats.
To help you get to know the candidates we’ve asked them a series of questions about local issues and, leading up to the election, will publish their answers. (Answers have not been edited and appear as submitted by the candidates.)
This week’s question for the candidates is:
Taxes remained flat in the last budget but a cell tower easement sale and use of reserves was needed to make that happen. Do you anticipate a tax increase in the 2014 budget and if not, what areas would you cut to hold the line on taxes?
Kyle Davis, Republican
Bio: Davis is a software engineer who currently serves on the township Technology Committee. He is the vice chairman of Greater Newtown Republican Club. Davis is a Council Rock graduate and former Army reservist.
Answer: We are lucky to live in a community whose leaders put the needs of taxpayers above all else, by making certain we receive quality services at a reasonable cost. I am proud to play a small part in this effort as the chairman of the Newtown Township Technology Committee. In that role, I have helped save tax dollars by improving our township's technological infrastructure and software; it is an effort I am continuing as I make new cost-saving recommendations to the Board of Supervisors nearly every month.
As part of my role with the Technology Committee, I attend the monthly board meetings and work with our township's management staff. What I have seen this year does not lead me to believe that township residents will face a tax increase in the 2014 budget. Thankfully, revenues seem to be increasing and new businesses are coming to town, further expanding our tax base.
These positive factors, combined with continued fiscal vigilance, should mean another year without a tax increase for our families and seniors.
If elected, I will not vote for a tax increase and will continue the positive record of my leadership teammates on fiscal issues.
Mike Gallagher, Republican (incumbent)
Bio: Gallagher is a small businessman and software engineer with an undergraduate degree from DeSales University. He is currently chairman of the Newtown Board of Supervisors. He has served on the board since 2008.
Answer: During my time on the Board, taxes have slightly decreased for Newtown Township. When the recession hit our town, and our country, all municipalities had a decision to make. We could raise taxes and maintain the status quo; or “tighten the belt,” cut expenses, and dip into the “rainy day fund.” Understanding the financial difficulties that Newtown residents were dealing with, we chose the latter course of action to protect taxpayers.
Fortunately, we are seeing our revenues increase significantly in 2013. For example, we have collected our entire expected transfer tax through three quarters of the year. Earned Income has also jumped sharply, which means that Newtown residents are beginning to recover from the financial crisis and new businesses coming to town are creating jobs that grow our tax base.
Therefore, I will not vote for a tax increase in the 2014 budget. Based on the last six budgets I have worked on and voted for, I know we can provide the high level of services that Newtown Township demands without further burdening our residents as they work their way out of the difficult economy we have all endured (and for many, are still enduring).
Judy Norkin, Democrat
Bio: Norkin is a 16-year resident of Newtown Township and lives in Cliveden Estates with her husband and two children. She is a former member of the Newtown Township Traffic Committee. Norkin has been a board member of the Cliveden Homeowners’ Association for more than 10 years. She works as a freelance writer and editor and is studying for her masters in Community and Regional Planning at Temple University. She earned her undergraduate degree in psychology from New York University.
Answer: To begin, selling assets is not a sustainable financial course. Most people understand that once an asset is sold it is gone forever. Even if at some point I thought it was a good idea to sell an asset, I would never do it without getting a fair market value appraisal -- something this Board failed to do. You cannot just accept the opinion of the buyer that the price they are paying is fair!
Some of the big expenses our township faces in 2014 are 1) the police budget 2) the Capital Improvement plan, and 3) the Road Maintenance Schedule. The police budget is our biggest expense. The Capital Improvement Plan is our replacement plan for costly equipment such as police cars, computers, etc.
We need to replace equipment on a timely basis before it becomes too unreliable or too expensive to repair and also to avoid service interruptions. The Road Maintenance Schedule is our road repair plan. It costs about $350,000 to $400,000 per mile to repave and repair roads. Newtown Township has 80 miles of roadways and our maintenance costs are huge.
To keep costs down the current Board majority opted not to follow the Capital Improvement Plan or the Road Maintenance Schedule. They also relied on layoffs to offset low revenues. These actions make it appear that our Township’s finances are doing well when they are not. This is not a sustainable approach over the long term. There are reasons Moody’s, an independent third-party rating service, downgraded our credit worthiness. It did not see how we would be able to pay our expenses over the coming years.
Right now there are indications that revenue in 2014 is increasing due to an improving economy. While Jen and I are optimistic that this trend will continue it doesn’t mean we will be any less vigilant about our Township’s financial condition. If next year shows improved revenues, we will carefully consider where to restore services to bring us back up to normal levels while maintaining efficiencies without waste. Making financial decisions that maintain our township’s high quality of life while on a secure course financially will always be a number one priority.
Since Jen and I are not in office yet we do not know everything that has been hidden from view but our attitude is basically that we will fight for every dollar. We will find the best ways to create value and increase our treasury. We will use all the knowledge and skill at our disposal to make financial decisions that put Newtown back on solid footing.
Jen Dix, Democrat
Bio: Dix, a 20-year resident of Newtown Township, is a consulting actuary in the health insurance industry who served on the Township’s Financial Planning Committee in 2006-2007. She is married with two children and serves as the treasurer of a large local church. She has a bachelor's degree in mathematics from Messiah College.
Answer: As a fiscal conservative, true fiscal responsibility will be one of my top priorities as Supervisor. I work as an actuary doing financial projections for insurance companies. I also serve as the treasurer and help manage the budget for a large local church. I spent two years as a volunteer on the Township’s Financial Planning Committee. I understand our township’s budgetary needs and am committed to sound stewardship of our resources.
Newtown residents deserve better than the current Board of Supervisors majority who have promised to “protect taxpayers” but in reality have mismanaged our township’s finances. Based upon the limited information currently available on the 2014 budget, I know I would oppose any tax increase next year. I am committed to keeping a watchful eye on every dollar spent and making sure we are getting the best value for taxpayers—whether it’s income or expenditures.
In addition, this is what I want people to know about our Township’s finances:
- The portion of our property taxes that goes to the Township is 2% of our total property tax bill – about $100 for the average household. The other 98% goes to the school district and the county.
- Only 7% of the Township’s revenue comes from property taxes. The biggest revenue source is the Earned Income Tax.
- The current Board of Supervisor’s failure to properly manage revenue and expenses has led them to spend more than revenue every year from 2009 to 2012 according to the audited financial statements. This must stop.
- The selling off of the cell tower easement earlier this year, without even getting an appraisal, is a prime example of the lack of understanding of sound money management by the township. The township not only lost the revenue this asset generated each year (about $50k) but the asset is now gone forever. This was done as a short term “fix” to make the general fund look better.
- In November 2011, Moody’s downgraded our township’s bond rating by two notches. We were the only municipality in Bucks County to receive a downgrading in at least the past two years.
- Audits of the township’s financials for the past several years have shown asset reductions which decreases the real value of the Township.
- Capital improvements are being deferred, roads are not being maintained on schedule, parks are not being properly completed and pensions are underfunded.
The rudimentary mentality of the current Board of Supervisors has led them to only three options to solve our financial problems: increase taxes, cut services and sell off assets to pay the township’s bills. True fiscal responsibility means facing facts, not ignoring them; making reasonable decisions, not arbitrary ones; and thinking of the likely consequences of those decisions, not merely denying such things can and will happen. Judy Norkin and I will think creatively to find alternative revenue sources, outside of raising taxes, so that we can restore funding to needed services like police support equipment, road repair, and improved communication features of the township.
If we are successful at finding funds for these essential services not only will we be able to support no tax increases, but we will vote for a tax cut when the Township’s financial health has been restored.