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Christmas comes early for borough residents

December 13, 2005|by DON AINES

chambersburg@herald-mail.com

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - For the third year in a row, real estates taxes in the borough will remain at 17 mills, but the $10,466,250 general fund budget for 2006 passed Monday by the Chambersburg Borough Council requires an infusion of more than $700,000 from cash reserves to keep it in balance.

Final approval of the budget was unanimous, as was the ordinance setting the tax rate. Borough Manager Eric Oyer said property taxes will bring in about $2.6 million, or 34 percent of the borough's general fund revenues.

One mill equals $1 for every $1,000 in assessed value on a property.

Other major sources of revenue include $1,325,000 from earned income taxes; $800,000 from the emergency and municipal services tax instituted this year; $490,000 in ambulance fees; $270,000 from recreation fees; and $250,000 from deed transfer taxes, according to budget figures.

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Total revenues for 2006 are projected at approximately $9.7 million, including nearly $2.5 million in funds transferred from other departments, including the borough's sewer, water, electrical and natural gas utilities.

The total budget for the borough is nearly $60 million, most of which Council President William McLaughlin said "is income and expenditures directly related to the utility operations we have." Owning four utilities "makes us unique among municipalities in Pennsylvania," he said.

"We didn't sell them when everyone else did, which puts us in a superior position," McLaughlin said. In addition to the revenue from the utilities, McLaughlin said it has allowed Chambersburg to have "the lowest composite utility rates in Pennsylvania."

Despite utility revenues, Oyer said it will be difficult to keep taxes in check in the future.

"We actually have a deficit budget," he said, noting the need to dip into cash reserves to bring it into balance. Unless revenues exceed projections and expenditures come in lower than expected, maintaining the tax rate at current levels could be difficult in 2007, he said.

One area the borough could realize savings is in the fire department and ambulance service budget, Oyer said. He said the budget is unchanged from the preliminary budget passed in October, but that included three new firefighter positions.

"Those are still in the budget," said Oyer, but it is unlikely the positions will be filled until the borough develops and the council approves a strategic plan for the department. The proposed plan by former Emergency Services Chief John Vanlandingham came under fire from some council members before he resigned.

The three positions, if filled, cost in excess of what 1 mill in taxes generates, Oyer said.

Under their current contracts, police and firefighters will receive 4 percent pay increases next year, with the balance of union and nonunion employees receiving 3.25 percent increases, Oyer said. The borough has 188 full-time employees, he said.

The largest general fund expenditures are $3.6 million for the police department and $2.5 million for fire and ambulance service.

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