Coun­cil caps tax hike at 18.6%

The Mercury (Pottstown, PA) - - FRONT PAGE - By Evan Brandt ebrandt@21st-cen­tu­ry­ @PottstownNews on Twit­ter

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.

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