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Lies and the Liars Who Tell Them

In the last few weeks there has been a torrent of misinformation, misdirection and just flat out lies pouring out of the mailers and door knockers and text messages and Internet banners from the Republican slate of candidates for township council and the landfill PAC that’s supporting them.  It’s way past time for them to be called out on all of it.  You need to know the facts before you vote.

Like so many Republican campaigns these days, they’ve devolved to projection, which means accusing your opponents of the things you yourself do or plan to do, providing statements completely out of context, and just plain making things up.

Fiscal Irresponsibility

Let’s start with the claim by the Republican slate that they will “protect taxpayers – advocate for responsible budgets and efficient use of tax dollars.”1. I can’t stop laughing.

Excessive Legal Fees

We all know that the library fiasco has cost the township an unreasonably large amount of legal expenses. Here’s a chart to give you some idea.

First, just the library.

The Council announced on January 19, 2022, that they were not going to sign the tripartite agreement among LST, Hellertown Borough and HAL.  As the chart above shows, based on data provided by the township manager, legal costs related to library matters increased 2,766%  between 2021 and 2022 and then increased an additional 281% between 2022 and 9/30/23.  We’re not even done with the costs for 2023 yet.  So far, the cost of library matters between 2022 and September 30, 2023 has cost the township $233,516.

As a note of explanation, the chart above shows the costs for Lincoln Treadwell, the township solicitor, and for Eckert, Seamans’ work on library matters.  Eckert, Seamans does work on other matters for the township occasionally but that work is not reflected in these numbers.  Eckert, Seamans, a Harrisburg legal firm, was employed by the township specifically to handle the lawsuit the township brought against the Office of Commonwealth Libraries, claiming that the township was denied due process rights when HAL did exactly what we asked them to do and requested state permission to remove LST from HAL’s home library area.

Those $233,516 were spent in pursuit of something that was not requested by township residents and which was broadly opposed by those who took the time to show up at Council meetings and speak to the matter.  In fact, with the exception of one email that Banonis read in one comment period, I believe the record will reflect that there were no other public comments by residents requesting we divorce ourselves from HAL.

That same door hanger1 also includes the claim that the slate will provide “experienced and honest leadership.”  First of all, Susan Blair has exactly no leadership experience in township matters.  I don’t believe she has ever been on a Council committee and she was certainly MIA at Council meetings not just before she was nominated in the primary, but since that time as well.  How can you claim to be “experienced” on township matters if you’re learning from scratch?

As for “honest leadership,” there is a flat-out lie that has been promoted by both Banonis and Carocci that all of the lawsuits and legal entanglements in which the township has been involved have not been of their doing.  Rather, playing the victim, they’ve claimed that they’ve been forced into defending the township against all of these evil people like HAL and Hellertown Borough and all the litigants in the lawsuits relating to the expansion of the dump.

As stated above, Eckert, Seamans was engaged specifically to represent the township in the lawsuit which the township initiated against the Office of Commonwealth Libraries because they are a Harrisburg firm and have experience in dealing with governmental bodies.  No one forced the township to file that lawsuit and, if you look at the total costs of legal fees related to the library, you’ll see that the largest amount – $174,308 or almost 75% – was paid to Eckert, Seamans, not to Treadwell. 

Other Excessive Legal Fees

While the library legal fees have been the largest component of legal fees, they have not been the only legal costs that have been the result of this council making decisions that ignored the desires of the residents or that represented irresponsible financial management.  The chart below shows our legal costs for 2023 ONLY through September 30, 2023.

There’s an additional law firm cited here – Clemons, Richter, Reiss is the law firm that was hired to conduct the conditional use hearings regarding the dump.  Those are the hearings that were rendered irrelevant when Judge Kassis threw out the initial zoning for the dump expansion.  Again, a self-inflicted cost.

Among other costs this year were fees for legal costs with Hellertown, again something occasioned by the township’s deplorable behavior in regards to its neighbor which made Hellertown Borough conclude that LST was not a reliable partner, zoning costs, right to know costs because so much of what’s been happening both with the library and with the dump has not been made visible to township residents, legal work on ordinances and “general” legal work which was not specified in the reports.

At the current burn rate, it seems likely that total legal costs for the year for just these issues will come to more than $430,000. That represents almost 5% of the General Fund budget for 2023, for just these legal costs. [Note: legal invoices are paid in the month following the month that the work is done, so work done through 9/30/23 was paid in October 2023, meaning that there are only 2 more months of legal invoices to be paid in 2023 if you’re playing along at home and doing the math.]  The township also pays legal fees to solicitors for the Planning Commission, the Zoning Hearing Board, the Environmental Advisory Council (EAC) and for labor and special projects such as contract negotiations that are not included in the figures in the chart.

What If

Let’s play a quick game of “what if”.  What if the township council had not refused to sign the tripartite agreement with HAL and instead had entered into good faith negotiations to resolve the differences?  Where might we be today?

Well, we wouldn’t have all of those legal costs associated with the library.  We wouldn’t have a continuing lawsuit with the Office of Commonwealth Libraries with no identifiable end in sight.  We probably wouldn’t have had anywhere near the costs of Right-to-Know requests if we had actually been informed as to what was going on.

We would have had a functioning, full-service library at our disposal.  Yes, we would have paid the full $107,000+ for library service for 2022 and 2023, but remember, we ended up paying $50,000 to Southern Lehigh Public Library in 2022 as a “contribution” for which we received no services as attested to by Treadwell in a letter to the SLPL and we paid one-twelfth of the 2021 library allocation to cover services we received in January 2022, or about $8800.  Explain to me how that meets the definition of responsible fiscal management.  

Facts Out of Context

Carocci is always eager to report at every council meeting how many reimbursements there have been for library cards as a running total for the year.  At the September 20, 2023, meeting he reported that there had been 230 family cards reimbursed and 85 individual cards reimbursed for a total of $10,900.2 The implication is always that those numbers represent a lack of interest on the part of township residents in using HAL. He always mentions that LST has over 11,000 residents.  That’s a deliberate misinterpretation of those numbers.

First, 230 family library cards does not represent 230 residents.  We don’t know how many people are in each family that purchases a family library card.  If there are four people in each family, those 230 cards might represent 920 residents.  Add to that the 85 individual cards, which do only represent one person, and you have over 1000 residents utilizing the library, or almost 10% of the population.

But wait, there’s more.  The numbers he reports are only for people who have chosen to get their library card purchase reimbursed.  It doesn’t represent how many people really have HAL library cards.  For many families, or individuals especially, it may not be worth the hassle and the hoops that LST residents are required by the township to jump through in order to get back a measly $20 or $40, not to mention that the $40 doesn’t even cover the total cost of a HAL library card for a family.  So those people aren’t counted.

Then there are the LST residents who have just not bothered to get a HAL card, hoping that township leadership would fix the problem that they caused and they’ll be able to go back to having their HAL card as usual.  Perhaps they’re buying their books.  Or perhaps they’ve gotten a library card from the Free Library of Philadelphia which is great if you don’t mind only reading e-books or if you want to drive to Philadelphia to get an actual paper book to read.  I have an FLP card and it works great for e-materials.  But it doesn’t replace a local library with easy access to printed materials.  Nor, despite Carocci’s inaccurate representations, does it provide PA Access capabilities.

So what can we construe from Carocci’s monthly reporting on library card reimbursements as far as how many LST residents are actually using the library?  Nothing of value or accuracy except that yes, that number of HAL library cards have been reimbursed to LST residents.

Even if we only use the 1000 number that I postulated above, with an annual cost of $107,000 for HAL participation, that works out to $107 per library user plus all the other services that a public library offers in programming above and beyond its holdings.  Every additional LST resident that exists that is actually using the library reduces that number.  Keep that $107/user in mind when we get to the next subject.

Now About that Ballfield3

At the August 16 council meeting, the council (not including Mrs. deLeon) voted to accept a bid for improvements to the Easton Road ballfield in the amount of $1.887 million with an additional amount of $69,000 approved to sod the new field in order to have it usable in the Spring.  In addition to the bids that were accepted, the council authorized investigation of the cost of putting a well on the property because the $1.887 million doesn’t actually get water to the property.

There are a few other items that won’t be available when the project is complete:  site and field lighting, precast concrete dugout, bleachers, structures above the dugouts, pre-cast concrete press boxes, scoreboards, and double tunnel batting cages.  The bid for these additional items came in at $1.34 million and was deferred.  

At that meeting, Mr. Greg Best of Saucon Valley Diamond Sports, a representative of the sports leagues that will be using the improved ballfield, was asked about how many players will be involved in using the facility.  His response was about 600 players.  A quick calculation shows that that comes to a cost of about $3,260/player, not all of whom might even be LST residents, I assume.  Even if we take into consideration that these are capital costs and not operating costs (no budget for operating costs has been provided so we have no clue what that will be) and amortize it over, say, ten years before it needs significant repair or renovation, that still comes to $326/player/year.

Now if we add the deferred additional items to the project costs, we come closer to $549/player/year.  I’m assuming that at some point over the next ten years those baseball players will want to have some lights and possibly some restroom facilities (the current plan is for port-a-potties), maybe a scoreboard.  Just guessing.

Priorities? Choices? Fiscal Responsibility?

My point here is not to argue about whether a ball field is a reasonable municipal amenity to provide. It certainly is.  There are already ballfields in a number of places in the township.  If they want to spiff up this one, fine.  My point is that here is a slate of Republican candidates running on the misinformation that the Democratic candidates are going to willy-nilly spend the township into debt on their “pet projects” (not defined) while at the same time approving a major capital investment that is skewed towards a limited number of residents at an exorbitant per capita cost.  Those 600 ballplayers are not even as many residents as can reasonably be assumed to be using the library and yet this council has balked at $107/library user but doesn’t blink an eye at $326/ballplayer.  I would certainly call a ballfield that will provide services to about 600 residents and the annihilation of library services that residents want both “pet projects.”  But it’s the current council that’s pushing them, not the Democratic slate.

There was an interesting exchange between Banonis and Director of Finance Cathy Gorman at that August 16 meeting.  In discussing the costs of the ballfield project, Banonis asked Gorman how much the township had in reserve funds.  Her response was “we have about $6 million or $9 million in reserves. Mr. Banonis said $9 million in reserves, yes. So we have the money to get this project done…”4. And there sat Yerger and Inglis, nodding their heads and voting in favor of the project.

There’s been a lot of handwringing and moaning about using township reserves to serve as a backstop for township expenses if the dump is not permitted to expand.  Most of the comments are uninformed and represent a naïve understanding of both finance and governance.  The incorrect nonsense that Banonis presented at the August 30 council meeting has been rather thoroughly exposed as self-serving to scare the population with numbers that were, to be polite about it, ridiculous.  If you want to see a more accurate portrayal of our current finances and the impact of the dump on our revenue, visit https://www.sauconvalleytogether.com.

As for the inane accusation that the Democratic slate would raise school taxes which appeared on another campaign piece from the Republican slate, anyone who thinks that the township council has control over school taxes probably doesn’t know enough to be running for township council.  School taxes are set by the school board alone.  The township has no input.

Of course no one believes that living off the reserves of the township for a long period of time is a prudent financial path.  However, there are a few concepts that seem to have been completely ignored in these discussions.

  1. The township is continuing to build up reserves in addition to the $9 million that Banonis already reported. With 3 months remaining in 2023, the budget already projects an almost $500,000 excess again this year.
  2. Even if the dump’s bid to expand is halted, it will still keep operating at peak capacity for at least five more years based upon the latest Northeastern Expansion that was approved by DEP this past year.  That income doesn’t stop tomorrow because the expansion is stopped. That means that with good stewardship of the township’s revenues (as in, not running out and willy-nilly starting expensive projects) those excess monies will continue to build.
  3. There has been virtually no investment in economic development in the township, certainly over the years that the current leadership has been in place.  Reading past minutes and reports of the township, there was a clear understanding on the part of leadership at the time when the dump first indicated that it would be closing that there would need to be significant effort put into developing business revenues and other tax-generating properties within the township to offset the loss of dump revenues.  This was at a time when the township was still carrying significant debt.  There was also a commitment made to pay off that debt in anticipation of the loss of dump revenues.  That was done.  

But the economic development part stalled – or was abandoned.  One could speculate that it was abandoned because it was too time-consuming, especially for a council that has worked on reducing the amount of time spent in township work (i.e. council meetings), or that perhaps there was some prior knowledge of the dump’s intention to do a major expansion so no economic development would be needed if the dump’s expansion just slid right through council approval.  We’ll probably never know.

What we do know is that there are areas along 378 with empty stores and businesses that are already in areas zoned for business use.  There are other areas in the township that are either zoned for business or could be zoned for business without significant disruption to or objection from residents, unlike the rezonings that took place earlier this year that caused palpable concern in a number of neighborhoods.

Some of those millions of dollars of reserves might be better used to hire some seasoned, successful economic development experts to help the township create a plausible plan for increased tax revenue.  There would be at least five years to develop and implement that plan before the township would even need to tap into reserves that would have continued to build over those five years, unless of course they are spent frivolously in the meantime.

Conclusion?

To be blunt, most of the claims promulgated by the Republican slate are, in the words of the late, great Colonel Potter, horse hockey.  The Republican candidates don’t attend public forums.  They don’t answer questions asked by the press or by residents.  They have no plans and no vision for the future.  Just more of the same.

Is that really what you want?  More of the same? Two more years of the hell that we’ve all been put through by the current council leadership?  No or limited library services?  Reduced composting capabilities? Tax money wasted on huge amounts of self-inflicted legal costs?  No investment in economic development?  Future tax revenues based on the further destruction of our beautiful natural environment which is one of the most valuable assets the township has?  Continued animosity with our neighboring borough with whom we share a school district, for goodness sake?  No interest in listening to our own residents?  More township committees stacked with yes-men and toadies?  Continued degradation of our EAC and its ability to offer us a better, more environmentally sound future? More arrogance, more condescension, less and less transparency?

That’s not what I want for where I live.  I hope the same is true for you as well.  But to get beyond what we’ve experienced, we need to elect the entire Democratic slate – Priscilla deLeon, Victoria Opthof-Cordaro, Laura Ray.  If even one of the Republicans gets elected, we’re doomed to two more years of dysfunction because they’ll continue to have control.  And there’s not one of those Republicans with a backbone to stand up to what’s been happening.

1Door hanger supporting Yerger/Inglis/Blair funded by Responsible Solutions for Pennsylvania

2LST Council Minutes, September 20, 2023, p. 19 of 22

3All information in this section comes from LST Council Minutes, August 16, 2023, p. 4-7 of 15.

4LST Council Minutes, August 16, 2023, p. 5 of 15.


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