MORRISVILLE BOROUGH >> Bucks County Judge Clyde Waite on Friday upheld the borough's tax ordinance averting a government shut-down beginning on January 1. Under the ruling, the tax levy will take effect as planned on January 1.
During a special meeting on Dec. 27, borough council voted 7-1 to file an emergency Mandamus action with the court to prevent a shutdown after Mayor Dave Rivella vetoed the borough's tax levy ordinance on Christmas Eve.
Had the veto stood, the borough would have been unable to fund its 2019 budget, including salaries, contracts and bills, and would have been forced to furlough its employees and shut-down its operations on Jan. 1.
Prior to the vote on court action, council attempted to override the mayor's veto. The 5-3 vote, however, fell one vote short of an override, which required six votes of the eight member council for passage.
Voting in favor of the override were Council President Debbie Smith, Michael Yager, Eileen Dreisbach, Vice President Danielle Larison and Justin Bowers. Council members Corryn Kronnagel, Ted Parker and David Nay voted against the override.
Rivella, in a letter to council and borough manager Scott Mitchell, said he vetoed the ordinance over the elimination of a full-time police officer and the under funding of the police pension fund.
“The tax ordinance clearly reduces the department’s full time officers by one officer,” he said. And the reduction, combined with a recent council decision to limit the amount of hours that part-time officers are permitted to work, “will directly impact the amount of services the Morrisville Borough Police Department will be able to safely provide to our community in 2019.
“I am also concerned with the tax ordinance with regards to the amount of taxes to be collected for the police pensions, which appears to be low,” he wrote in his letter.
Councilman Yager said the mayor’s veto regarding the funding of the pension doesn’t add up given the money budgeted for 2019.
“In 2018 we budgeted $145,000 and spent $90,900. It’s budgeted for $90,000 in 2019. That’s what we spent this year,” said Yager. “So I’m not sure why that would be a reason to veto the tax levy. That seriously does not make sense. If no other reason other than for political gain, to cost the taxpayer in legal fees is an abomination,” said Yager.
The council at its December 17 meeting voted 6-2 to approve the 2019 tax levy ordinance, which allows the borough to levy taxes in order to fund its budget. The council also approved a $7.1 million budget for 2019, which holds the line on taxes, but cuts a full-time police officer in order to plug a budget deficit.
“It’s a shame. It really is,” said Smith responding to the veto and subsequent votes. “Government has to be funded. You can’t back door what you want in the budget and that’s exactly what has happened here. The mayor had plenty of time to be at Giant before Christmas Eve when he had his photo op at the beer garden, but he couldn’t wait to get down here to borough hall on Christmas Eve at 3 p.m. when the Borough was closed to turn in that memo. He had an entire week to do that. If anything doesn’t ring political, that does. Act like a mayor,” she said.
During public comment at council's special meeting, Richard Brigham from Prospect Avenue said he disagrees with the mayor on his veto of the tax levy and supports council’s passage of the 2019 budget.
“Morrisville is one of the highest taxed boroughs in Bucks County. I do not feel that losing one full time officer is going to affect the community as much as the social media is portraying. Our borough will have the same number of patrol officers as we did in 2018. What we will lack is a truck enforcement officer ... These inspections do not stop cars from being stolen, shrimp from Giant from being shoplifted or cars from being rummaged through.”
Jane Burger from West Maple Avenue noted that until 2018 there hadn’t been 10 officers (excluding the Chief) on the payroll since 2009 and 2010. “In 2012 there were eight. In 2013 there were nine. In 2014 there were seven. It increased to eight in 2015. And in 2016 there were nine,” said Burger.
“When Rivella was the mayor in 2014 to the present, with staffing of less than 10 patrol officers, he never once vetoed the tax rate ordinance,” said Burger. “We are not facing Armageddon. We are just in difficult financial times.”
Georgia Tashjian of West Franklin Street called the debate over the budget “political” and said it has been clear since the budget talks began that police coverage would not change.
“There are no safety issues,” she said. “There is no crime wave of epic proportions. However, what is a danger is a potential government shut down threatened by Mayor Rivella,” she said. “It’s an expensive and dangerous move.”