Dear State Representatives,
We are writing to respectfully request your reconsideration and/or opposition to proposals that would drain millions of dollars from special and restricted accounts for programs important to Cumberland County, and our citizens and taxpayers, as a means to balance this year’s state budget.
In many cases, the so-called “Taxpayers Budget” may very well lead to another shifting of more costs directly onto the backs of county property taxpayers.
The proposed use of these dedicated funds is, frankly, fiscally irresponsible and contrary to the state laws that established these funds.
As an example, taking $40 million from the 911 Fund directly contradicts the General Assembly’s express language (Act 12/2015) prohibiting the transfer of money from this Fund for “General Fund use by the Commonwealth or counties.” It was clear by the law that these funds were to be restricted — set aside in a lock box — for one purpose and one purpose only: to help relieve county property taxpayers of the increasing cost of our statewide 911 public safety, emergency call and response systems. The authorized $1.65 fee on communications devices — paid by consumers each month — was to be used exclusively for 911, to achieve interconnectivity, to facilitate efficiencies, and to pave the way for the development of advanced technology and Next Generation 911. What’s more, the suggestion that there is any surplus in this Fund is an absolute fallacy, unless proponents of this proposal want to bring to a screeching halt grant awards that are already dedicated or committed, and paralyze progress toward better serving the emergency public safety needs of our citizens.
We are deeply concerned, as well, by the proposals to grab $27 million from the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP) and $72 million from the Environmental Stewardship Fund. Both of these Funds are absolutely critical to our County’s ongoing efforts to preserve more of our County’s rich farmland before it’s gone. Despite Cumberland County’s success over the past 25 years in preserving more than 17,000 acres of prime farmland, many thousands of acres of top quality soil farmland await preservation. Our citizens, your constituents, in a recent public opinion survey in conjunction with an update of our County’s comprehensive plan, have placed farmland preservation in Cumberland County as a very high priority. The action to take these state dollars away from these Funds is like driving a stake through the heart of our County’s farmland preservation efforts. As advised by the Department of Agriculture, the taking of these Funds very clearly jeopardizes the preservation of 10 Cumberland County farms that have already been approved for preservation in our 2016 and 2017 programs. It would, in effect, invalidate these pending transactions and threaten the future of our County’s farmland preservation efforts.
Unspent money in the ACEP is not a “surplus”. Those funds are allocated to property owners throughout the state, payable upon successful closing of a conservation easement on their farms. Farmland preservation transactions require time to complete, sometimes as much as 3 years. The legislature knew this when crafting the Commonwealth’s farmland preservation law, which allows State funds to be spent by counties over a period of three years.
Also very troubling is the suggestion of transferring millions of dollars from the Growing Greener and Keystone Funds; actions that would pull the rug out from under community and non-profit organization efforts throughout Cumberland County to restore and protect local watersheds, preserve and acquire open spaces, lessen non-point source pollution from entering waterways, and expand trail, greenway and park and recreation development.
Finally, although we are still examining the consequences of using the many other dedicated funds as proposed, we are being informed by experts in the transit field that the proposal to siphon $357 million from the Public Transportation Trust Fund could have a dire adverse impact in a number of areas including, but not limited to, a reduction in fixed route transit service, rationing of shared ride service for seniors and the disabled, and the cancellation and litigation over pending but unfunded transit contracts.
While we recognize the tough decisions you face in dealing with the state’s substantial structural budget deficit, while balancing the $32 billion state budget that many of you voted to approve earlier this summer, we don’t believe that jumbling priorities by robbing from Peter to pay Paul and threatening important programs is a responsible solution.
We respectfully request your consideration of a thoughtful, sustainable revenue package instead of shortsighted stop gap measures that will — more than likely — cause more harm than good for years to come.
Thank you for your consideration.
Cumberland County Commissioners
Vincent T. DiFilippo, Chairman
Jim Hertzler, Vice-Chairman
Gary Eichelberg, Secretary