Council caps tax hike at 18.6%
POTTSTOWN » There’s good news and bad news about the proposed 2018 borough budget.
The good news is council agreed in a 5-2 vote Monday night to cap how high the taxes will go.
The bad news is that cap is 18.61 percent.
That’s down from the 23 percent hike Borough Manager Mark Flanders warned about in September — but not by much.
On Wednesday, Flanders said
that some updated information and some cuts had reduced September’s $2.4 million budget gap to $1.4 million.
However, the results of the last round of property assessment challenges continue to trickle in robbing from the revenue side of the equation as staff continues to work to cut the cost side of the equation, Flanders said.
Council President Dan Weand, who also heads up council’s finance committee, called the continued assessment challenges “somewhat of a tragedy” and “outside our control.”
The biggest part of that tragedy is the potential loss of Pottstown Hospital from the tax rolls as the result of its purchase by the non-profit health provider Tower Health.
Currently, the hospital is the borough’s largest property tax revenue source.
Weand said the borough has re-financed debt to get lower interest rates, undertaken joint purchasing of supplies with the school district and other municipalities, and made the operations of both the codes and public works facilities more efficient.
Most questions or suggestions for further savings were either proven ineffective or political nonstarters.
When Councilwoman Rita Paez suggested reducing the number of volunteer fire companies in the borough from four to two, Fire Chief Michael Lessar said such a move
would cost the borough eight paid firefighters and another 20 volunteers who would quit out of the more than 60 the borough has now.
It would also reduce the community’s fire rating and cause increased insurance premiums for businesses and, to a lesser extent, residents, Lessar said.
Paez also suggested renting out the vacant former borough garage on Beech Street, eliminating borough cars for the borough manager, fire chief and police chief, as well as funding for PAID and contributions to Pottstown’s senior center and library — apparently unaware that Pottstown has a dedicated tax to provide its portion of library funding.
None of those suggestions generated a motion or a vote.
Councilman Dennis Arms said $16,000 could be saved by cutting the stipends to the mayor and council members.
No one on council took up that notion for discussion.
Vice President Sheryl Miller said cuts could be made to administration. “I think we really need to look at cutting administration before cutting services,” said Miller. “We have assistants to assistants to assistants,” she said.
Finance Director Janice Lee confirmed for Councilman Joe Kirkland that the proposed budget includes a $170,000 increase in personnel for the public works department which includes a new position, assistant public works director.
Miller said she is supportive
of a small increase to close the shortfall in the fire fund and to be dedicated to maintaining the police force.
“We have a month,” said Weand. “We’re not done yet.”
But Borough Solicitor Charles Garner pointed out that unless council plans on holding special budget meetings in November or December, adoption of a 2018 budget at the regular meetings of Dec. 6 and Dec. 11 requires legal notification.
As a result, Weand proposed a “not-to-exceed” budget resolution that would cap the tax hike at the 18.61 percent needed to close the budget gap.
That motion was opposed only by Arms and Miller.
This was evidently too much for Arms, who exclaimed “I can’t believe we sat up here and passed a budget not to exceed 18 percent. I’m shocked, just cannot believe it.”
“We still have time to work together and bring it down,” said Paez.
“I’m not sure what the big deal is,” said Councilman Ryan Procsal. “It won’t be any more than that.”
“These are real people and it’s their money, savings and retirement we’re impacting,” Arms replied. “We are going to drive more people out of this town.”
Should council fail to find any additional revenue or savings, the budget adopted Monday would cost the owner of a property assessed at $80,000 — the borough median — an additional $163.56 in 2018. Or “$13.63 a month,” as Flanders added.