A large number of Bath residents came out to an early morning town hall at the Bath Social Hall on Saturday, May 20, to discuss the financial future of Bath and how police services in the borough may be affected. The borough is currently deciding as to whether or not it would like to continue to use the police services of the CRPD, or seek alternative options. The budget of the CRPD is outgrowing the budget of the borough and, if the borough opts to stay with the CRPD, taxes for residents will increase.
The Borough of Bath Council and members of the Citizens Police Advisory Panel, as well as Mayor Fiorella Mirabito and Borough Manager Brad Flynn, fielded a handful of questions posed by residents. The turnout was much higher than council or panel members had initially expected. Borough officials welcomed the crowd, yet expressed how tough this discussion and ultimate decision is and will be.
“[This is] an extremely difficult decision,” said Mayor Mirabito. “This is about as historical as the first day CRPD started in 1995 …My number one priority is the safety of everybody here…[and to] make the best decision for you.”
Thick informational packets outlining current and estimated finances for the borough and the CRPD were distributed to all attendees. These packets featured statistics, graphs, comparison charts, and breakdowns of what police services Bath’s tax dollars are currently going towards.
“This data is highly controversial. Some people agree with it, some people do not,” Borough Council President Mark Saginario prefaced before Flynn walked residents through the packets page by page.
Flynn explained that the current council is faced with two options: to either make tough financial decisions facing the borough now, or to do nothing and let the problems become another council’s responsibility in the future. However, he warned that if the council chooses the latter, due to priorities in funding, major mandated capital improvement projects, and demographics in which 16 percent of residents live below the poverty line even as taxes continue to rise, the “borough will tax itself out of existence.”
Bath already has the seventh highest local property tax rate among boroughs in Northampton County. There is no room for infrastructure to help stimulate the borough’s economy and alleviate these taxes for residents. This means Bath has a finite amount of funding. Flynn and the council fear that, if taxes continue to rise, homeowners will opt to purchase property in different townships where they can get a newer house and more services for a lower price. If people do not live in Bath, the local economy will collapse and Bath will have no choice but to be absorbed by a larger surrounding municipality.
Finding an alternative, cheaper police service will help cut the amount of funding being spent.
“This council is not afraid of change. You should not be either…[but we should] be afraid of not changing,” Flynn warned.
The impact this decision will have on the future of the borough is why council wanted to involve residents and be as transparent as possible.
“This council cares about where the borough is heading [and] where it can head,” said Saginario.
Residents did not hesitate to ask questions about the future of their borough, although a clear indication of how borough residents believed council should move forward was not clear. Residents seemed to be split down the middle as to whether Bath should remain with the CRPD and just accept the tax increases, or seek alternatives.
Some residents worried about the crime rate, especially in areas of the borough where property is rented, such as Old Forge Drive. Residents said that the presence of the CRPD adds a sense of comfort to the borough.
“Can anybody in this room put a number on protecting loved ones?” asked Fire Chief Emilio DeNisi.
However, other residents voiced understanding that the borough may not exist if it must continue to raise taxes to pay for CRPD’s services. Meanwhile, while some residents said they feel as if they know the officers, others voiced frustration and said they rarely see the CRPD patrolling their neighborhoods or issuing traffic citations to the many trucks that pass through the borough. One statistic in the informational packet said that only one truck out of every 48,667 that passes through Bath receives a violation.
However, some of the data and information the packets held was contested by CRPD Police Chief Roy Seiple and other CRPD officers in attendance. Chief Seiple took issue with the packet’s mentioning that “Shop with a Cop” has unknown statistics as to how the program benefits borough children. He argued that a majority of children in the program are from Bath. Chief Seiple also said that there are services the police provide for the borough that cannot be measured and put on paper, such as the comfort provided by simply having a community police presence.
“None of us here are going to disagree that the CRPD is a top-notch agency,” said Flynn, stressing that this decision is purely financial.
The borough’s tax collector Debra Mills jumped in and stressed that the financial issues the borough is facing do not start and end with the police services.
“If an extra ten dollars [a person] could fix the borough, I would write you a check today…[but] there is no room in the budget…Long term, I do not think the borough will be here,” she warned.
Other residents wondered why they themselves cannot make the decision in a referendum. The borough’s assistant solicitor James Kratz explained that only certain questions are permitted on the ballot and police services is not one of them.
This means that council is depending on residents to voice their questions and concerns so that they can make the decision that is best for all of Bath. While they acknowledge that not all residents will be happy with the outcome regardless of what they choose, they are acting with the borough’s best interests in mind. It is a duty that is weighing heavily on many of them.
“Everyone is losing sleep over this,” Mayor Mirabito said, “but we cannot keep raising taxes.”
“You elected me to do what is right for the borough,” said Councilwoman Cynthia Anderson. “[We are] doing everything possible to make the right decision.”
Councilman Barry Fenstermaker agreed and expressed the hope that Bath can continue to remain Bath. “This town, I love…but I cannot see increasing taxes. The people in this town cannot afford it.”
Residents are encouraged to attend Colonial Regional Police Commission meetings, as well as upcoming Borough of Bath Council meetings, to learn more and have their voices heard.
“We are all in this together,” Saginario told residents.