Possible budget cuts loomed large at the June 9 meeting of the Lehigh Township Supervisors, held again via teleconference because of the Covid-19 pandemic. At the April 28 meeting, Chairperson Cindy Miller asked each of her fellow supervisors to look at a particular department’s budget with the department’s manager and consider what a 20 percent cut would look like.
“We don’t want to get taken by surprise,” Miller said. The township could be looking at a major budget shakeup because of declining tax revenue, but did not finalize any solutions.
Miller’s proposal to consider large budget cuts was not met with approval by the entire board, Supervisor Keith Hantz said he doesn’t want any cuts to the police budget.
“There are areas we can cut from that won’t effect any of the departments,” Hantz said. He expressed that he resented being assigned to look at the budget of one of the township offices with the highest personnel costs, leading to a heated exchange with Miller.
“Are you looking out for the community or you?” she asked. Hantz said that they couldn’t really make any decisions without seeing just how much they would be impacted.
“We don’t know how many people are laid off in Lehigh Township. I think we need facts,” he said. All supervisors agreed that any cuts to staff would be an absolute last resort before agreeing to table the discussion for a future meeting.
“I’m going to suggest we go back to the drawing board,” Miller said.
During the solicitor’s report, Township Solicitor David Backenstoe clarified Governor Wolf’s use of emergency powers to shut down businesses starting back in March. Despite heavy criticism of the shut down order, Backenstoe said that Wolf’s order is lawful and the township has to legally follow the measures mandated by the state. Litigation to reject Wolf’s emergency powers was rejected by the Supreme Court. During the meeting, it was announced that a vote by the Pennsylvania Legislature to end Wolf’s emergency declaration was passed, but the impact of the vote is yet to be fully determined and the state’s orders still stand. Any business violating these orders can face losing its license to operate and liability insurance. Municipalities can face loss of grants and state money.
“I can’t recommend that a township I represent act in contravention of the governor’s order,” Backenstoe said.
During the meeting, the supervisors also wanted to remind the public that the yard waste center is for residents only and not contractors or people who live outside of Lehigh Township.
The next Lehigh Township Board of Supervisors meeting will be June 23. For more information about calling in to the meeting, please visit the township’s website at lehightownship.com.
UPDATE: Township Supervisor Keith Hantz wanted to clarify that he and Police Chief Scott Fogel did look at cuts to the police budget and could only get to six percent, not the 20 percent cut Chairperson Cindy Miller had asked them to consider. Hantz does not support any plans to reduce personnel in the police or public works departments. “Having a plan is the right thing, personnel cuts isn’t,” Hantz said.