It’s that time of year. Time for figuring out what has to be bought and what has to be done and what money we have to do it with and how much will be left and where the next money is coming from.
You’re thinking, Christmas shopping? Yes, it is supposed to be starting earlier than ever this year, with preview sales before Black Friday. Spending that Christmas Club money and looking for more, doing layaways to lock in those super bargain prices, trying not to max out those cards?
Yes, that too. But what I was talking about was area municipalities and their annual budget preparation, tentative budgets, and adoption of next year’s budget before the December 31 deadline.
The county has to do that too. Most of our school districts go through that process in the spring, and adopt their annual budgets by a June 30 deadline. We know the state budget process is supposed to be concluded by June 30 too, although in recent years it has dragged on and on. But the county and the municipalities in it have fiscal years that match the calendar year.
Most of the townships in McKean County are as rural as can be. Some are “bedroom townships” where people live who work in nearby boroughs or more populated townships or the City of Bradford. As such they do not contain much industry and commerce, but mainly residences.
Residents have chosen to reside there because they like country life, they cherish privacy, they don’t want to pay borough water-sewer rates, they don’t like noisy traffic, and land wasn’t very expensive when they were looking for building sites.
Ah, nature! Wildlife! Peaceful valleys nestled among Allegheny foothills, where summer greenery and autumn color give way to ornate twiggery of trees and brush!
Some residents are the current generations of families that have lived there or nearby in the township, from way, way back. Their roots are like those of a giant oak, ancient and tenacious.
Yet even the landscape changes, with some of those foothills having received podiatric surgery way beyond bunion shaving and neuroma excision. The whole anatomies of some townships have received piercings, and there have been grotesque appurtenances attached. Where pipelines seemed like hair parts, now clear-cut expanses have left just tufts, or scalp locks.
Meanwhile those jaunts to town and commutes to jobs have become longer and more costly. Where cable and Internet are available, and cell signals reach, communications keep people connected. Still, they need mobility.
What they really need from township government is roads. Decent roads, roads that are passable all year, roads that don’t require the residents to drive high-suspension pickups, or amphicars, for those times when rapid run-off overwhelm ditches, sluices and stream channels.
The residents want their roads cleared of snow, and treated with something for ice melting and traction. They do not want to slalom around potholes or break springs or axels when the slalom course gets impossible to traverse. They don’t want to bottom out on bridges, or endure kidney-punishing jolts throughout the Ho Chi Minh Trail stretches.
Trouble is, road fixing and improving, ditching, bridge repairs and reinforcement, snow removal and ice treatment all cost more and more.
Every township around advertises for paving and other road work materials, separately and over and over. All of them have equipment, some of it used a lot and some now and then. All of them have to replace equipment. All of them have labor costs associated with roads. All have residents who come in now and then and upbraid the supervisors if roads those particular residents use are in bad shape. Sometimes they even ask for their old dirt roads back—at least those didn’t have potholes you could lose your compact car in.
If there is anything township residents hate almost as much as bad county roads, particularly theirs, it is having their taxes raised. Notice I said “almost as much.” When asked whether they would stand still for a tax increase if that would help get the roads fixed faster and better, quite a few of those residents say they would.
Raise taxes a mill or two, they say. Save money, don’t spend any money you don’t have to—unless it will make our roads and sluices and culverts better.
Other matters that agitate township residents tend to be beyond the control of the township government. Codes will be enforced, and stormwater will be managed, and sanitation will be required and drinking water will be checked and garbage and trash will be disposed of lawfully one way or another and whether the locals like it or not. The state, DEP and feds demand it. Townships will be compliant in those processes whether their officials and their residents are willing or mutter about rebellion.
Meanwhile, supervisors have to see to the roads and pay the bills. And taxpayers have to ante up.