Written by James Boyle of the Bucks County Courier Times.
Bucks County turned into a bit of a lightning rod for politics as the 2016 presidential campaign wound down to its historic conclusion. Several rallies featuring the candidates or their surrogates rolled into Bucks communities, and now officials from one municipality want to recoup some of those costs.
Newtown Township supervisors Jennifer Dix and Phil Calabro sent a letter last week to Newtown Athletic Center owner Jim Worthington, asking for his help ensuring the township is reimbursed for personnel expenses from President Donald Trump’s Oct. 21 campaign visit at athletic club.
Police and fire personnel provided crowd control, traffic management and backup security for the visit, costing Newtown Township $19,730. Dix and Calabro, the two Democrats on the five-member board of supervisors, say in the letter to Worthington that the township has been unsuccessful contacting the Trump campaign and hoped he could assist.
“You clearly have direct connections to Mr. Trump,” the letter says. “You ran a highly publicized and successful campaign to be a delegate to the Republican National Convention. You were in contact with the campaign to have Mr. Trump come to your facility in October.”
The bill includes six hours of overtime pay for 24 Newtown Township police officers, at $118 per hour, and 41 total overtime hours for eight of the township’s professional firefighters. Newtown Township police also provided support at Democratic Vice Presidential candidate Sen. Tim Kaine’s Oct. 26 rally at Bucks County Community College.
The Kaine event was much smaller than Trump’s and was during regular hours, said Newtown Township Manager Kurt Ferguson. Twelve officers paid at the average normal rate of $45 an hour produced a $5,623.10 bill, he said. Ferguson said he was not optimistic the township would be reimbursed by either the Trump or Hillary Clinton campaigns.
“I reached out to both campaigns shortly after the election was over, and I did not get responses from either one,” said Ferguson. “It’s something that is not uncommon with political events. I’m not familiar with a reimbursement ever coming to a town following a campaign event.”
Dix brought the matter before the rest of the Newtown Township supervisors at the Dec. 28 regular meeting, saying she heard from residents who did not want the burden of paying for those costs and did not think it was fair of the campaigns to stick the taxpayers with the bill.
She brought up the possibility of billing NAC and the community college, but the Republican majority dismissed the idea. Board Chairman Kyle Davis said that if the township were to be reimbursed, it should come from the campaigns and not the host venues. Fellow Supervisor Ryan Gallagher agreed, saying it would be unfair to come collecting after the event had ended.
“There’s an understanding up front that a business owner owes X amount of dollars for the proper permits,” said Gallagher. “It would not be fair to go back to the business and say they also owe money for the police costs. It’s punishing the host for something they did not fully understand up front.”
Worthington said Monday afternoon that he merely offered the NAC Sports Training Center up to the Trump team and was not involved with the actual planning. The campaign handled the logistics of the rally, which drew thousands. The size of the event forced Worthington to significantly reduce hours at the fitness center, which cost him between $50,000 and $70,000, he said.
“I gave my facility to the Trump people, I was never involved in the discussions with the police and fire departments,” said Worthington. “I was there for the morning walk-through and the event that night.”
Worthington said he is willing to work with Newtown Township to make them whole, whether that means getting compensation from the Trump campaign or paying for the expenses himself. If he does end up paying out-of-pocket, Worthington said he hopes he will not be the only business owner stuck with the bill from a political campaign.
“If they want to start doing that with me, that’s fine, I guess, it is what it is,” said Worthington. “It should be fair, though. They should also be reimbursed by the community college. If they set that precedent, they should be consistent.”
Dix said the Bucks County Democratic Committee has been contacted about reimbursements for the Kaine event. If they are unable to pay back the township, the community college will be approached. BCCC spokesperson Jean Dolan said Monday that the college had not been contacted by the township regarding a reimbursement.
Bucks County hosted several events in the final months of the election, including Vice President Mike Pence at Worth & Company in Bedminster in August and at T.C. Millwork in Bensalem in October. Vice President Joe Biden visited Bucks County Community College’s Lower Bucks Campus in Bristol Township in the first week of October and made a last-minute stop in November to Snyder-Girotti Elementary School in Bristol Borough.
Messages were left with administration officials in Bensalem and Bristol Township. Bristol Borough manager James Dillon said the cost to the borough was insignificant and there were no plans at the moment to seek reimbursement.