After some heated words were exchanged between supervisors, the Lower Providence Township Board of Supervisors agreed to advertise the proposed 2015 budget for the township, which includes a tax increase. If the proposed budget stands, residents will be looking at a 0.175 millage hike in taxes.
The increase will be the first in many years.
The budget has been presented in public meetings twice by Township Manager Richard Gestrich via PowerPoint. It was also presented to the finance committee, along with a five-year plan outlining major expenses expected for the township.
“The last items are the negotiations between the board and the police negotiation team,” said Gestrich. “At this point, we’ve noted all the items that have increased in association with that, and are ready to advertise the budget.”
Supervisor Chairwoman Colleen Eckman explained.
“We have two contracts that are still under negotiation, the public works and police,” she said. “One is not finalized. One is, the public works. On the police [contract] we do not have an agreement, so we can only base figures on where we are right now. We’ve built this into the current version of the budget.”
The discussion of the contracts started a quite frustration among supervisors.
“Rich [Gestrich] has recommended we go ahead with the increase in millage to cover the debt service, as well as the park and recreation funding,” said Eckman.
Gestrich explained that, to this point, $118,000 was picked up by the unrestricted general fund, while $152,000 was paid out of the general fund each year to cover funds “associated with debt service on the golf course.”
“The funds pick these up every year, and it is a burden on those funds,” said Gestrich. “To eliminate that debt service, it will require a 0.175 millage increase to fund the debt service.”
The township manager said that the increase would translate to the average residential home being assessed an additional $29.22 each year, or $2.43 each month.
Many of the supervisors said they felt the increase was necessary.
“I’ve spoke about it before, over the last two years, but the time has come to fully fund our debt service,” said Supervisor Jason Sorgini. “I propose we move forward to advertise the budget that includes the 0.175 millage increase to fully fund the debt service.”
“I’d agree with that, and I don’t think we have any option,” said Supervisor Jill Zimmerman.
Sorgini said the time was running out to find ways to fund the costs.
“We’ve squeaked by for years at this point without an increase, but we’ve squeezed the proverbial blood from the stone, cut corners in every way we possibly can,” he said. “I believe we are fiscally responsible, but not if we continue to kick the can down the road with debt service.”
Eckman again referred to the costs of negotiated contracts.
“We are faced with potential increases with the two contracts,” said the chairwoman. “The increase to the general fund could be over $200,000 in pension costs, salary, healthcare costs, and all costs that go along with a new contract.”
Supervisor Don Thomas did not agree with her assessment.
“I think it is clear the increase in taxes in not due to contracts, but due to the fact that we have not adequately provided a funding stream to service the debts we have,” said Thomas. “We had a plant for utilizing the golf course with the YMCA project, and that wend down in defeat by members of this board. Here we are, faced with this debt service. We have not maximized the assets that this township has to service the debts, and now we’ll have to raise taxes.”
Eckman fired back.
“It figures that you would have said that, Don, since you are living in the past,” she said. “We were able to save the township open space, and that was an investment made by board members a long time ago. It is all tax money, but different money from different funds, and we would have enough if we didn’t have to do new contracts.
Thomas was not finished.
“I’m not surprised you’d respond that way, Colleen,” said Thomas. “And, I think it is a load of crap.”
Supervisor Patrick Duffy weighed in after the vote to advertise.
“I would like some feedback from residents out there,” said Duffy. “Send me feedback on the budget, and proposed tax increase. I am looking forward to some responses.”
Eckman added that things can still change at this point.
“We can always take things out from the budget, but not add,” she said. “We do have some leeway.”
Gestrich said they can reduce the budget and small additions could be made.
“The only limitations are that we can’t increase the budget by more than 10 percent in aggregate or 20 percent in any major account.”
With no questions from the residents, the approval to advertise the budget as is was unanimous.