Bailiwick News - May 24, 2020

Questions posed to COG Finance Committee and Executive Committee members, by email sent Sunday, May 24, 2020.

Dear COG Finance Committee members* and Executive Committee members**:

I write to request your responses to the following questions. 

If you choose to respond, please do so no later than 5 p.m. Tuesday, May 26, and please respond in writing to ensure that your thoughts and opinions on these issues are published completely and accurately. 

For those who choose not to respond by the deadline, I will indicate "declined to respond" in my forthcoming reporting on these issues.

Question 1. As elected municipal officials, do you regard COG governing documents such as COG articles of agreement (for example, those related to the financing and planning of regional parks, adopted Nov. 27, 2006); the "Special Rules for Unit Votes" adopted in May 2019, and the emergency power-transfer resolution adopted in March 2020, as clearly-written, legally-binding, cognizable contracts entailing legal and financial penalties for violations of terms, or as ambiguously-written, non-binding suggestions?

Question 2. As elected municipal officials, do you believe you owe a cognizable fiduciary, legal duty toward the Centre Region taxpayers, to protect, properly spend and account for taxpayer money submitted to COG municipalities and passed through to COG to support COG programs?

Question 3. As elected municipal officials, do you distinguish between essential and discretionary spending in making your financial recommendations and casting budgetary votes, and if so, which current and pending public services and projects do you place under each category? 

Question 4. As elected municipal officials, how do you reconcile your votes (on May 14 for Finance Committee members, and May 19 for Executive Committee members) in favor of moving forward the debt-funded multimillion-dollar new construction project at Whitehall Road Regional Park, with the following ongoing public disclosures by governments, corporations and school districts about COVID-19 impacts on public budgets:

a) Pennsylvania is anticipating at least a $4 billion loss from COVID-19, has already started laying off state workers and freezing paychecks, and is preparing other budget cutting steps;

b) Penn State is anticipating at least a $260 million loss from COVID-19, has announced planned layoffs and deferred capital projects, and has directed all units to prepare plans for 5%, 10% and 15% budget cuts;

c) The State College Area School District is anticipating at least a $9.6 million loss from COVID-19, is negotiating salary freezes, has announced a hiring freeze, and is deferring capital projects;

d) Centre County government has furloughed employees, reduced staff hours and frozen hiring in response to already-incurred financial impacts of COVID-19; 

e) COG has already started furloughing Schlow Library staff, anticipates additional furloughs and service cuts, and went into the COVID crisis already burdened with a large "hole" in its long-term capital plan (according to p. 7 of Attachment 05A, "Financial Scenarios" from May 14 Finance Committee agenda.)

f) In mid-April, the Borough of State College Finance Director projected at least a $1.7 million loss from COVID-19 by the end of May, and in mid-May, he reported an already-confirmed $573,000 loss through the end of April.

In your responses to question 4, please address your personal views of whether the Centre County economy will fully recover to pre-COVID employment and economic activity levels, from the COVID-19 losses, and if so, how long you believe it will take for full recovery to occur.

*2020 COG Finance Committee: Evan Myers (State College); Rich Francke (College Township); Steve Miller (Ferguson Township); Bud Graham (Harris Township); Dan Trevino (Patton Township); Patti Hartle (Halfmoon Township)

**2020 COG Executive Committee: Jesse Barlow (State College); Anthony Fragola (College Township); Steve Miller (Ferguson Township); Nigel Wilson (Harris Township); Elliot Abrams (Patton Township); Danelle Del Corso (Halfmoon Township).