The Walker Township Board of Supervisors passed a tentative 2010 budget Thursday evening with no property tax increase.

The $393,330.40 budget will keep the township's property tax rate at 5.04 mills.

A few minutes after approving the tentative budget, however, Supervisor Randall Bensinger moved for a shift in the millage for the township's fire tax, which currently sits at .75 mills. Bensinger proposed shifting one-quarter mill from the fire tax and putting it back into the general fund.

Supervisors Chairman David Price agreed, and the motion carried. Vice Chairman Craig Wagner was absent.

Under Bensinger's motion, the total millage rate remains at 5.04, but the fire tax will now be one-half mill and the general fund is boosted from 4.29 mills to 4.54 mills.

Township Secretary-Treasurer Suzanne Borzak said one mill generates approximately $23,238.91 for the township. In reality, however, the township budgeted $17,244 in revenue from real estate tax for this year and has collected $16,427 to date. Borzak explained that a good number of residents pay their tax bills during the discount period.

Bensinger was asked why the quarter-mill was shifted from the fire tax. He explained that, in addition to the tax revenue, the township also pays for workman's compensation and other insurance for the New England Fire Company, as well as maintenance and fuel costs for the fire apparatus.

Bensinger also noted Walker Township's total assessed property value has gone up, which means more revenue. There's also $5,000 available from the township's emergency fund.

"We should have plenty of money to pay the bills," said Bensinger.

A special meeting will be held on Dec. 28 at 7:30 p.m. to finalize the budget.

Police response question

Under public comment, Ralph DeAngelo, owner of Mountain Valley Alpaca Farm on Valley Road, related he had an incident on his farm Halloween evening in which a two year-old, 20 pound alpaca was discovered missing from his barn the following morning, with blood found on the barn floor.

DeAngelo expressed frustration with the system for getting a police officer to respond to his call for help.

"I had to beg, plead and steal to get a cop out," said DeAngelo. "Thank God no one was holding a gun to my head."

Walker Township has one officer, Police Chief Eric Leiby. When Leiby is not on duty, the State Police respond to calls.

DeAngelo called the Schuylkill 911 Communications Center and was told they did not know whether Leiby was on duty or not. DeAngelo subsequently got through to the State Police, who did eventually respond on Nov. 1. The incident was written up as a theft by police.

Another alpaca was found injured on the farm a few days later, and DeAngelo eventually discovered his animals had been attacked by a bear.

DeAngelo made it clear he wasn't making a personal attack against Leiby. "The system failed me on that day, and I don't think it is working under the current conditions," he said.

Leiby suggested that there was a breakdown in communications with the incident, most likely on the part of the Comm Center.

"I can't speak to their policy, as there could be changes pending," said Leiby of the State Police. "If there's a life and death incident, they will respond. If you ask the Comm Center to call Walker Police, they'll take your number and call Walker wjen we're on duty."

The board will examine if anything can be done to avoid future communication breakdowns with police calls.