Upper Darby budget holds line on taxes; Dems vote no
All 5 Democrats vote against spending plan
UPPER DARBY >> Taxes are not going up in Upper Darby – at least for residents’ township tax tab.
The 2019 Upper Darby Township budget, which holds the line on taxes no tax increase, was adopted
6-5 after a lengthy debate by council.
The $80.2 million budget was introduced by Mayor Thomas Micozzie in October.
A homeowner with a
$108,000 average assessment will pay $2,262 next year, the same amount as this year.
The annual $190 trash fee and $205 sewer fee to homeowners remained the same.
The vote for the budget was along party lines with the six Republicans voting in favor and the five Democrats voting against adoption.
Democrats Barbarann Keffer and Laura Wentz started the ball rolling, questioning the amount of money in the fund balance and the bidding process.
Micozzie noted the township was able to increase investment in ongoing municipal operations by approximately $3.5 million over
2018, while still holding the line with no property tax increase on property owners who are already facing an increase in school taxes.
“Given the significant cost drivers facing Upper Darby and many other municipalities, developing a no tax increase budget was a challenge,” Micozzie said. “But I know that many of our township residents are struggling under the weight of existing property taxes, so I worked with our municipal staff members to find opportunities to tighten our belt and identify new revenue sources besides property tax increases. The end result was a fiscally responsible budget proposal that continues to invest in important municipal programs and meets our pension obligations without burdening property owners with another tax hike.”
Micozzie noted that the largest increases in expenditures in the now-approved 2019 budget fell under the township’s fire, public works, and police departments. He said that new, innovative programs - such as hiring a collection firm to capture delinquent trash and sewer fees will help bring in new revenues to cover the increased costs in certain areas. In addition, the budget proposes to use $2.2 million of a general fund surplus that is projected to be $6.37 million at the end of 2018.
“I could not, in good conscience, raise taxes on residents who are already overburdened while the township maintains an excess balance in our general fund,” said Micozzie. The Mayor also noted that the estimated fund balance at the end of 2019 would be more than $4.1 million, an amount that fulfills the township’s policy that requires a fund balance that is greater than 5 percent of proposed 2019 expenditures.
At the same time, Mayor Micozzie expressed disappointment in the partisan opposition to the budget.
“It is disappointing that the five Democratic members of Township Council voted in opposition to this budget and attempted to claim it was not fiscally responsible, but at no time offered any proposed amendments or alternatives,” said Micozzie. “I have no problem with members of Council disagreeing with my proposed budget, but at the very least they should put in the work and offer their own alternative. They had two months to put together their own plan, but opted to criticize it and never set forth how they would address any of the issues they raised.”
“We all would like to put money into the fund balance but I’m not prepared to say increase taxes to put money into the fund balance,” Finance Chairman Thomas Wagner said. “Taxpayers are already telling us that taxes are already too high. The time to ask for information was over the past couple of months.”
According to Wagner, the Finance Committee conducted two public hearings and met with every department head going over the line by line budget presented.
The administration also met with some Democrats recently to answer questions.
Wentz also had a concern about increasing the salaries of non-union township employees.
“There is not enough information for me to figure things out,” Wentz said. “I couldn’t figure out the number of hours they work. I don’t know how to solve the problem.”
Democrat Sekela Coles asked about the possibility of introducing an amendment to delay adoption until later in the month, a suggestion that would necessitate the introduction and advertisement of another ordinance.
Republican Marc Manfre recommended council conduct a retreat to get definitions of different aspects of the budget.
Council President Donald Bonnett suggested questions be aired earlier in next year’s budget process.
“I would like to be in the process earlier,” Wentz said.
Residents questioned officials prior to council voting on the budget.
“It’s hard for residents to get a realistic picture of the budget,” said Bonnie Hallam, of Woodland Avenue. “It would be more helpful to see what’s happening, maybe supply a line item budget with more details.”
Jennifer Hallam, of Woodland Avenue, who previously suggested more information be posted on the Web for residents, offered online models council could consider.
She related a dilemma after asking officials for job descriptions of employees at a previous council meeting.
According to Hallam, Chief Administrative Officer Thomas Judge said some were in union negotiations and unavailable, followed by a reminder from Hallam of her request and response from Judge of a 30-day extension since it was a rightto-know request.
Hallam says she received a $77.40 bill for cost of copies of 278 pages and postage.
“It causes some frustration,” Hallam said. “I did not submit it as right-toknow, so I’m in a little bit of a quandary. What I requested should have been on the Web site. I suggest and urge the council and mayor to get into the 21st century.”
The 69th Street Terminal will be getting a new parking terminal, the latest in a series of improves to the 69th Street Business District in Upper Darby.
Upper Darby finance boss Thomas Wagner