During the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, the Upper Perkiomen Police Commission was a marriage of the boroughs of East Greenville, Pennsburg and Red Hill. Each borough council appointed three members from their municipality to represent them on the commission. It wasn’t always smooth sailing, but they worked hard to keep the bumps from turning into craters.
The commission set the budget based on input from the police chief, who obtained input from the police officers and staff, as well as their own keen knowledge of the department’s operation. Like any budget, it was a balancing act of income versus expenses – with the bulk of the income coming from the boroughs. The bulk of the borough’s income came from taxpayers.
Every month, the police commission members and the public were presented with reports monitoring the financial health of the department. A line-item by line-item report of every expense and income category – with copies laid out for the public. There was public review and discussion by the commission members. If there was an imbalance one month, it was easily corrected and brought into balance the next. There were no surprises or secrets, and a surplus every year helped to fund next year’s budget.
In August of each year, the borough’s representatives to the police commission selected one person to be part of the three-member “budget committee.” Since finances were closely monitored and publicly reported each month, their work was made much easier. By September their preliminary budget was completed and turned over to each borough for scrutiny – with plenty of time to review and react to the numbers.
More than once during that time in the 1980’s and early 1990’s one borough would draw a line in the budget and say they couldn’t give one nickel more. If a borough had a problem meeting their obligations set forth in the preliminary budget, the committee went back to the table, sharpened their pencils and went through the numbers again and again until a compromise was worked out that met the needs of the department and the municipality.
Sometimes the answers were found in the borough’s budget as well as the police budget. Those answers were easy to find and suggestions for alterations were just as easy because meetings were transparent and information was openly shared. But the whole process involved lots of meetings, lots of research and lots of shared information. It was a giant commitment for local officials to do - a lot more than holding a title; and they were up to the task.
If you want to run a transparent government operation, that means you must want to share information with each other and the public. Don’t wait until you need to share it. Why is it that with just five weeks left before a budget must be passed, the public is first finding out about the cutbacks in police officers?
In government actions, once a decision is made, it’s hard to get reversed. When you’re seeking public support for your position on any issue, why wait until the decision has been made?
Red Hill is long gone as a member of the commission, but the remaining two boroughs need to work just as hard to keep the regional police department intact.
Putting pressure on the public to help catch the horse after the barn door was left open usually isn’t enough. Support for or against any government action needs to be presented while it is being contemplated to help officials with the process, not after the decision has been made.