Commission president responds to letter
Editor's note: The following letter by Jack Dalton, president of the Bridgeville
Town Commission, is in response to a letter to the editor written by Joseph
Conaway, Bridgeville, concerning the Bridgeville town budget.
I am in receipt of your letter of Aug. 22 last and am compelled to correct your mistakes and answer your ill-founded accusations. Twice in the last few months you have stood up in a town meeting and made false claims against me and the members of the commission. On each occasion, I invited you to come to town hall and learn the facts, at which time you found that you were wrong. Now I'm afraid you have done the same thing again.
If you had bothered to check the facts you would know that I have not been in the position of president for the last four years as you claim. I first accepted the position of president in 1998. Having witnessed the financial position we were in, I called a town meeting in the fire hall to tell the public that if we didn't make some very difficult decisions about our spending habits we were in danger of bankruptcy. At that time we were saddled with a loan for $200,000 that was taken to pay operating expenses. I pointed out that borrowing was not the way to get out of financial trouble.
At the next commission meeting I faced accusations such as you are making now. Commissioners who had stated that the town budget was nothing but a "wish list" accused me of being the problem and called for me to resign. I agreed to step down from the presidency, but refused to leave the commission because I knew that prudent business practices were needed to correct the problems we faced. So, if you had researched the facts you would know that the budgets of 1997 and 1998 were the legacy of decisions made by previous administrations.
In 1999 I was again voted president and started to institute some much needed changes, one of which was the reorganization of the police department. By the way, I disagree with your statement in the July meeting that we should disband the police department and rely on the state police for our protection.
You enjoy a very peaceful existence in town due to the hard work of a very dedicated police force. There are some in town who must daily face the threat of burglary and drug trafficking, which our officers can barely keep under control. Imagine what these citizens would face if we relied on 20 hours per week of patrol (at a cost of more than $50,000 per year) by the state police to maintain peace in our town.
Concerning the police department budget, if you would check the facts you would know that I have made a major change in the way revenue is reported. In the past, the income from traffic citations was stated as the amount of the tickets written. As you may know, we do not receive the total amount of the ticket, due to the fact that fees are subtracted from those tickets by the state and some tickets are dismissed. It is not good business practice to base a budget on projected income when you know that all of it will not be collected. For this reason you will find that the police budget reflects only that portion of ticket revenue we can reasonably expect to receive.
You make an issue of the fact that we included a portion of one year's revenue with another when we changed the fiscal year of the town to match that of the state. If you will check with the town auditor you will find that is a necessary step when making such a change. Concerning the budget for fiscal year 1999, we finished the year within $2,500 of budgeted revenue and expenditures. That was due in great part to the damage from hurricane Floyd for which we received absolutely no money from the state or federal governments even though it was promised.
You seem intent on scaring the people of Bridgeville by claiming that I plan a 150-percent increase in taxes. Nothing could be further from the truth. First, the cap on revenue is from all sources including taxes and fees. One of the first suggestions I made when joining the commission was that we claim our share of the real estate transfer tax the state and county collects from the sale of every home in town. The commission refused to consider it and for the years 1996 and 1997 lost considerable revenue. Today that source accounts for more than $20,000 per year.
We must look at all the fees we charge for the services we render. And keep in mind, many of these fees are charged to businesses that come into Bridgeville to do business and then leave, having used our services and not contributed to the welfare of the town. This is one reason I propose that we consider a business license so that we will share in the income generated from our citizens which to this point is in many cases leaving town.
As far as our tax rate is concerned, we need to decide the level of services we desire and are willing to pay for. Contrary to your position that a reassessment of property values is a way to hide a tax increase, a regular reassessment every five to ten years would bring equity to the tax base. There are many who pay an amount far below the value of their property because the assessment has not been changed since the seventies. Some people with homes worth more than $100,000 are paying the same as people with homes worth less than $50,000 due to a lack of reassessment.
You are right on one point: There is no way we can increase tax revenue this year to solve the current problem. We need to evaluate the services we require, include the funds needed to maintain our infrastructure and decide what our tax rate should be. In the meantime, we need to look at all departments to make whatever adjustments are needed to stay within our means. We have already taken action to lessen the cost of our health insurance plan which has grown to more than $65,000 per year. When I first started working on this issue three years ago we were paying less than $40,000. Over the next few years the measures we are instituting now will bring a savings of more than $20,000 per year.
You accuse me of neglecting the infrastructure of the town. When I served as the wastewater commissioner I presented a list of repairs totaling over $200,000 that needed to be taken care of. There was never enough money in the budgets to accomplish those repairs and some still face us today. We have taken positive action to repair failing systems. We made needed repairs to the roof of the wastewater plant as well as replacement of the RBC gear box, and repaired the neglected rotting woodwork around the doors in town hall. By the way, the ramp installed at town hall was paid for entirely with grant funds from the state. We continue to research grants to insure that we are getting everything we are entitled to from the state and county governments.
While serving as the water commissioner I realized that we needed to start thinking about the painting and maintenance of the water tower. Borrowing more money was not the way to do it. So, three years ago I started putting money aside for that project. Unfortunately, the damage to our systems caused by hurricane Floyd also claimed those funds. Right now, with the help of Sen. Thurman Adams and Rep. Ben Ewing, we are exploring ways we can obtain funds to complete this very important project.
You say we should pursue every legitimate means to collect back taxes and overdue water and sewer bills. Again, you ignore the facts. If you had only asked, you would find that the town clerk Watha Hostetler and I started vigorous collection of back taxes three years ago. All delinquent accounts were given notice of action to be taken to collect back taxes, and some were taken to court to collect. By the way, Ms. Hostetler even went to court herself on these matters so we would not have to pay an attorney. Anyone with a water/sewer bill 60 days overdue has the service terminated. If you will look at the numbers you will see that our delinquent accounts are lower than they have ever been.
Resign? No, I won't resign, and neither will I ask the dedicated people serving with me to resign. We are committed to giving the citizens of this town the kind of leadership they want and deserve.
The orderly and controlled growth of our town is the most important challenge we face. As I stated when I joined the commission, "Higher taxes on our citizens is not the answer to our problem. Attracting business and residential development to broaden our tax base and relieve the burden on the taxpayers is." We are proving that Bridgeville is taking its responsibility seriously. We are taking prudent steps to bring our finances in order and presenting Bridgeville as a safe and well-maintained community where people will want to bring their businesses and raise their families. As long as the voters in Bridgeville agree that that is the kind of town they want, I and the members of the commission will do all in our power to live up to their expectations.