By Jim Buck
Matt Schumacher opened Tuesday’s East Buffalo Township Supervisors meeting by speed-reading a 13-minute-long monologue featuring just about every kind of misinformation imaginable.
Full audio and a full transcript of Mr. Schumacher’s rhetorical effort are available on the BarnstormingPA.org page: https://barnstormingpa.org/2018/01/06/public-comments-from-matt-schumacher-ebt-supervisor-january-2/
Bits of the speech have been dissected on the “Parks and Rec for EBT” Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/groups/bvra.rocks/
If you care to read a more comprehensive account of and rebuttal to the “I love BVRA to death” speech, you’ve come to the right place.
The newly elected chair of the EBT supervisors insisted on having his say before allowing any of the 80-plus citizens at the meeting to speak.
The speech was read too quickly to digest fully at the time.*
Reading over the transcript at liesure, I see that some thought must have gone into it. How else can one account for the way it closely weaves truth with innuendo and lies in order to make the case that borough officials are unfair and ungrateful to EBT and that something like a special investigation is needed to reveal the truth about BVRA.
Schumacher’s assertions that his ongoing public flagellation of BVRA is, in actual fact, an act of love (and also just a regular duty of all supervisors) is transparently absurd.
As I said, Mr. Schumacher offered some statements that are true. For instance, “In November the township notified the borough of its interest in meeting to review the current IGA.” However, he failed to mention that in December, 2 of 3 EBT supervisors voted to notify the borough of their intention to terminate the current recreation agreement between the two municipalities. Nor did he mention that the borough has responded to the supervisors emails, asking them what changes they would like to see in the agreement.
Now here’s a good example of a direct lie (as opposed to the highly selective truth noted above). Mr. Schumacher said, “Has the fact that 100% of the BVRA programming and properties is now located in the borough been taken into account in the current IGA? None of the properties, parks, buildings that are used and maintained or rented by BVRA are in EBT.”
I interrupted Mr. Schumacher at that point to say he was ignoring the 3.3 miles of the Buffalo Valley Rail Trail that run the entire length of East Buffalo Township — a trail segment used by thousands of people. This segment, which includes the trail head at Penn Commons, constitutes a linear recreational/natural public space with a total area of 24 acres, making it larger than the St Mary Street Park (22 acres)!
But Mr. Schumacher did not break character. He said the trail lies within 5 municipalities (true), then moved right back to his text and read the line, “So this [i.e. the false allegation that 100% of BVRA facilities are in the borough] is clearly of benefit to the borough and needs to be recognized in any agreement.”
Mr. Schumacher’s speech resorts again and again to innuendo, such as this gem: “So I have to ask, which municipality has been less than committed to the area’s recreation programming over these past 10 years?”
If your only source of information on the subject were Mr. Schumacher’s speech, you would answer that last question as he seems to: Lewisburg makes EBT pay too much, and they hog all the goodies for themselves.
Mr. Schumacher portrays East Buffalo as some sort of helpless younger sibling that has been picked on and treated shabbily for years by its evil older brother, Lewisburg Borough. In fact, previous boards of supervisors have been fully supportive of partnering with Lewisburg. And since previous boards have always included a supervisor who had actually served on the BVRA/LARA board, they were much more well acquainted with the facts than Mr. Schumacher appears to be.
For instance, Mr. Schumacher made a limited use of population data from the 2016 census update to claim that the township and borough are “roughly equal,” EBT having 6,832 residents to the borough’s 5,699.
“Wouldn’t the funding formula be more fair and more equitable if we based the funding formula on actual population numbers?” Schumacher asked. “In this case, 2018 [contributions to BVRA] would be $99,714** for EBT, $81,485 for Lewisburg.”
If you’ve read this far, take a quick break and look at these census stats that compare EBT and Lewisburg. You will see just how unequal they are. https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/fact/table/eastbuffalotownshipunioncountypennsylvania,lewisburgboroughpennsylvania,unioncountypennsylvania/PST045216
EBT’s population has been rising steadily, Lewisburg’s has fallen slightly of late.
Median household income in EBT was $84,479, while in the borough it was $43,214.
The median value of an owner-occupied home in EBT was $232,000, much higher than in the borough, which clocked in at $116,600. And EBT has a much higher percentage of owner-occupied homes than the borough: 84% vs 33%.
The implications for the budgets of the two municipalities is very clear. Total taxable real estate value in EBT is $520 million. The borough has less taxable real estate, just $179 million (numbers are per Union Co. Chief Tax Assessor Joan Duncheskie as of Jan 2018).
Despite the fact that general fund real estate tax rates in the borough are more than twice what EBT’s are (10.285 mils vs 4.5 mils), EBT’s bigger tax base will yield $2.33 million in 2018 vs $1.8 million for the borough.
In addition to real estate taxes, both municipalities levy earned income taxes and local services taxes. In EBT these taxes will generate revenue of $1.49 million this year, while the borough will collect about half that, $691,000 (source – municipal 2018 budgets).
In accordance with the terms of the current recreation agreement, the funding formula for BVRA is based on three factors: population, real estate tax base, and earned income tax base.
Here’s a quick summary:
population 55% 45%
RE tax base 74% 26%
income tax base 74% 26%
share of BVRA funding 64% 36%
share of regional police 52%*** 48%
As you can see, Lewisburg agreed to a much more even split of regional police costs than it did for BVRA. Why? Well, some additional factors were weighed into the funding formula during negotiations over the formation of the combined police department. One very important factor was the number of police calls, which were significantly higher in the borough than in EBT — as you would expect given all the bars downtown and, at the time, the 500 Bucknell students (now 250) who were living in rental units mostly along South 6th & 7th streets.
Over the past decade, several cooperative agreements have been successfully negotiated or renegotiated between EBT and Lewisburg.
Though not without friction, these negotiations have not led any elected official in either municipality to open a meeting with a long rant obviously intended to publicly shame his counterparts in the way Mr. Schumacher did in his speech to residents assembled at Tuesday’s supervisors meeting.
If he really did appreciate BVRA in the way he claims to do, Mr. Schumacher would have delivered only the first minute of his speech, which noted that BVRA finished 2016 with a significant cash surplus (built up to help pay for the renovation of a new gymnastics facility in 2017), that all its programs ran in the black, and that the pool broke even.
Instead, he went on to describe the world as he sees it, a world in which BVRA has taken a lot of EBT money and spent it all on stuff in the borough, a world in which EBT is frivolously “subsidizing” fun stuff for people not residing in EBT****, in which the fact that EBT residents are the heaviest users of BVRA programs is an inconvenient truth that can be dispensed with if you do enough hand-waving, and in which any EBT resident not directly enrolled in a BVRA program or actually out on the trail or enjoying a park is receiving nothing.*****
But Schumacher forged on into even more bizarre and disturbing territory.
After extensively trashing over a decade of successful recreation partnership between EBT and Lewisburg, Schumacher had the temerity to criticize Lewisburg and BVRA for not managing to entice other municipalities to join the recreation agreement (which Schumacher was quoted in the press as calling a “paper entanglement”). This, of course, is the same agreement that two EBT supervisors have now voted to terminate at the end of 2018.
In the finale of his speech, Mr. Schumacher said “the board believes” new research and analysis is need to make sure BVRA is not in any way duplicating services now being offered by the Miller Center for Recreation and Wellness (open for just a few months) or the YMCA, a facility that may (or may not) be set up someday in Kelly Township.
It’s a good thing this same logic was not applied when Penn Commons was being redeveloped, or else Giant would not have been allowed to duplicate the grocery offerings of Weis Market and Walmart. The pizza parlor and hair stylist would also have been nixed by EBT’s non-duplication tzar.******
On Tuesday, EBT residents let Mr. Schumacher know that they do not see the world as he does.*******
Among many who wanted their voices to be heard on Tuesday was Brenda Harrison. Here’s what she said: “I live in Wyndham Hills. My children are grown and gone. I pay a lot in taxes. And I believe BVRA is run well. I believe it adds to our community.
“It would be a real loss to our community if it was not funded in the same way. I think it’s very difficult, having sat on a lot of boards, to run something like BVRA when you don’t know what you’re getting year to year.
“If you’re going to negotiate, that’s fine. But please realize that this is important to our community. It’s important to our families. Please understand that this is important to our property values. It enhances every aspect of our community.”
What Brenda Harrison gets that Mr. Schumacher doesn’t is that East Buffalo Township has ownership of BVRA’s parks and programs and trail. It’s not just the money EBT has put in — others have put in money, in fact, state grant money far exceeds EBT contributions, and Playworld has made very generous private donations.
What I mean by ownership is a strong sense of personal attachment and a recognition of value. Residents recognize a connection between their own well being and the work that BVRA does. No amount of speech-making by Mr. Schumacher is going to be able to change that.
What might change instead, is the residents’ estimation of Mr. Schumacher … and of other supervisors if they decide to follow him down the path he is taking.
*When Mr. Schumacher was asked after the meeting to share a copy of his remarks, he declined after turning to the EBT manager, who ruled that the sheaf of paper he read from constituted “working papers,” thus exempting it from public disclosure. Rather than enter a FOIA request and haggle with EBT for release of the speech, I was able to transcribe it from an audio recording made during the meeting. After all, it’s nuts to claim that a speech you read at a public meeting attended by 80-plus people is somehow not in the public domain
**Here, Schumacher left-handely makes a proposition to cut EBT funding to BVRA and actually gives the dollar amount he feels would be “fair,” one that would represent a cut of almost $22,000. Yet, he claims he has absolutely no intention of cutting funding to BVRA ever.
*** EBT unilaterally cut police funding to 50% starting in 2017
**** The truth is just the opposite of what Mr. Schumacher seems to believe. BVRA board chair Sandra Cook explains: “That kid from Elysburg participating in gymnastics [pays a fee and] is helping to fund the park, pool, and trail. Without [fees from] the greater Susquehanna participation in BVRA programming, local tax contributions would be HIGHER.” Also, visitors from outside the area who use the trail, park, etc are an economic benefit to EBT businesses in terms of real dollars spent on food, gas, drinks, etc.
*****Fortunately, many residents reminded him, when their turn came, that good parks and rec programs help sustain real estate values, increase health, and keep kids out of trouble.
******BVRA board chair Sandra Cook emailed me these thoughts on how the Miller Center affects BVRA: “Will MCRW eclipse BVRA on ‘indoor’ programming? YES of course they will. It’s a beautiful facility with tons of space that BVRA simply does not have. Will MCRW run “competing” or “duplicate” programming that BVRA is also doing? YES and thank goodness! Because BVRA has wait lists on many of our programs and we are excited that the community has more opportunities. Will some BVRA programming stop because the MCRW is doing it bigger, better, and at a good cost? YES but who cares? The essence of BVRA programming that generates the most amount of revenue that underwrites the other negative revenue facilities (ie park, pool, rail trail) are not the types of programs that we are in danger of losing. It’s gymnastics, martial arts, it’s Nature School, it’s outdoor birthday parties etc. These are not overlapping programs, these are unique to BVRA. The MCRW was spearheaded to fill a need in the community, indoor rec space was seriously missing and now it’s available, which is awesome. It was not created to replace outdoor recreation and programming that takes place in a gymnastics center.”
*******Mr. Schumacher often emphasizes how it is his duty as a supervisor to scrutinize everything. While we do need supervisors with intellectual curiosity and the ability to digest a lot of information, Mr. Schumacher’s speech is a textbook example of the old adage about not being able to see the forest through the trees. There is none so blind as one who will not see.