ATHENS — The Athens Borough Fire Department will be purchasing some new gear for its firefighters thanks to a $25,000 grant.
Athens Borough Councilman Scott Riley announced at Monday’s council meeting that the fire department received the grant through the Firehouse Subs Public Safety Foundation.
The money will be used to buy eight new sets of turnout gear for the department.
“Any time that we can bring outside money in to help fund what the fire department does is always a big thing. The fire department as a whole, between the gear and the equipment, it’s all real expensive stuff and it adds up pretty quick,” said Riley, who is a second lieutenant with the department and the chairman of the council’s fire committee.
Riley explained that the contribution from Firehouse Subs will help replace some gear that was due for an upgrade.
“That gear has a life expectancy and I know we’ve got some sets where we were getting close to the expiration, so we were going to have to find money somewhere to replace that gear,” Riley said. “Like I said, any time we can get that many sets (of turnout gear) that don’t cost the borough anything, that’s always a real big plus for us and what we do ... and we can utilize that money in other areas.”
The Athens Borough Fire Department will be recognized for receiving the grant at two different events. The first will be at 2:30 p.m. on Friday, July 19 at the Firehouse Subs location in Ithaca. The second will be at 1 p.m. on Saturday, July 20 at the annual Athens Street Fair.
Also in Monday’s meeting, Riley announced that he had completed his classes for his Advanced Certification as the borough’s Emergency Management Coordinator. The certificate comes from the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency.
In other news:
HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — Gov. Tom Wolf and state Treasurer Joe Torsella celebrated Tuesday with what they said will be Pennsylvania’s largest deposit into its budgetary reserve account in nearly two decades.
The expected $317 million comes after strong corporate and sales tax collections drove the state past its revenue expectations by almost 3%. It also marks Pennsylvania’s strongest stretch of tax collections since the recession a decade ago, bringing a reprieve from a string of tight budget years and deficits.
All told, Pennsylvania will have about $340 million in reserve, enough to run state government for a few days. That’s well short of the median of 23 days among states, Torsella said.
The state collected a total of $34.9 billion for its main operating account in the just-ended fiscal year. That exceeded projections by $883 million, although most of that extra cash was needed to cover cost overruns.
Still, not every outlook for the state is rosy, and it still has its share of fiscal challenges.
Pennsylvania’s stronger-than-expected tax collections can largely be traced to sales and corporate taxes.
Over the last several years, Pennsylvania has expanded its 6% sales tax to more online transactions, including digital downloads and third-party sales in online marketplaces. That helped fueled growth of better than 6% in the 2018-19 fiscal year, analysts say.
Meanwhile, businesses appeared to be delaying profit-reporting from 2016 and 2017 into the 2018 tax year to capitalize on lower federal tax rates, said Matthew Knittel, of the Independent Fiscal Office, a legislative agency. That helped boost corporate tax collections, to an approximately 12 percent increase.
Pennsylvania suffered a string of downgrades by the big three rating agencies that took a dim view of its post-recession efforts to avoid a tax increase by relying on one-time cash infusions. That left Pennsylvania among the bottom-ranked states and paying a higher price on its debt.
One persistent criticism was Pennsylvania’s bare budget reserve, and the robust deposit could help improve the state’s credit profile and give it a way to borrow money and refinance debt at a lower interest rate.
“Bond-rating agencies will take note of our savings as a sign of our financial preparedness and an increased bond rating would bring us even further savings, and I’m hoping that they see things the way I do,” Wolf said.
Payrolls were at a record high in May, the unemployment rate was a record low and the 2019-20 fiscal year that began July 1 is expected to be another relatively strong year for tax collections. Growth is projected at 3% and Wolf’s office expects $350 million left over at the end of the 12 months.
Still, budget makers are using various cash maneuvers to lower short-term costs. Meanwhile, budget makers have a recent history of low-balling spending estimates for health care services on the front end of the fiscal year, costs they must make up at the end of the fiscal year.
Pennsylvania state government is facing a demographics crunch that is expected to strain budget-making in the coming years.
In short, projections by the Pennsylvania State Data Center show the growth of Pennsylvania’s retirement-age population will balloon in the coming years, while its working-age population shrinks.
That effectively means Pennsylvania’s tax collections will slow as more people leave the workforce while the rising cost to care for the elderly will put more strain on state services.
Pennsylvania had a projected $67 billion in debt in its two large public pension systems, as of the last valuation. The state government is budgeted to pay about $3.5 billion into the two systems in the new fiscal year, but it’s not paying any more than is required.
The systems for state government employees and public school employees had among the lowest funding levels among state pension systems, at under 60 percent, based on 2017 figures.
WAVERLY — Waverly Trustee Steve Burlingame returned to the village board Tuesday with recommendations for building safety a little over a month after Mayor Patrick Ayres asked the Sayre police officer to explore building safety assessments with village police chief Dan Gelatt.
Specifically, Ayres had asked Burlingame to meet with Gelatt to assess the physical nature of the village’s facilities — such as the village hall and department of public works (DPW) building — to ensure safety and security.
“Do certain buildings need more cameras? Do others need more lights? I honestly don’t know,” the mayor had said during the board’s last meeting in May. “But that’s what I want to find out through these series of assessments.”
“There’s two separate things that we can do that isn’t going to cost the village a cent as far as safety and security for buildings,” Burlingame said Tuesday. “For one, we recommend locking the east-end doors on the village hall from public access.”
Burlingame explained that there was a concern at that entrance since no one working in the office could see anyone come and go through those doors.
“Our concern is that maybe someone gets in the building and wants to do harm. They can sneak in and hide until everyone leaves, and then they pretty much have free reign,” he said. “That entrance is not observable to anyone working in the office, so we would recommend making that entrance employee-only.”
The other recommendation from the Sayre police officer was for the overhead bay doors at the municipality’s DPW building to be closed when no one is at the facility.
“It would just be easy for someone to walk in when no one is there and take a $300 saw or something,” Burlingame said. “I know it’s an inconvenience sometimes for the employees, but if we’re talking about safety and security, you don’t want people to be able to go in there and just take things.”
Burlingame also suggested that the village could get cost estimates for equipment such as burglar alarms and more security cameras to enhance safety even more — if the price was right.
“Camera systems are traditionally expensive,” he said. “So that was our last recommendation.”
The board agreed to explore more options as far as equipment moving forward.
SPENCER — The Spencer-Van Etten Board of Education held its reorganizational meeting recently and elected officers for the upcoming school year.
Don Johnson will remain as board president as he was elected in a 6-0 vote. Sean Vallely nominated Johnson and Karen Johnson provided a second. Don Johnson abstained from voting.
The vice president position will once again be held by Vallely, who was nominated by Rick Rogers and got a second from Karen Johnson. Vallely abstained from voting.
The following committee assignments were also handed out during the meeting:
The next meeting of the Spencer-Van Etten School Board will be held on Thursday, Aug. 8 at the S-VE Middle School Library.