Council finalizes tax hike

By on December 21, 2011

By: GARY P. KLINGER Record Express Correspondent, Staff Writer

Lititz Borough Council made it official on Tuesday night with a unanimous vote to raise real estate taxes.

With the .5 mill increase adopted by council, real estate owners within the borough would now be assessed at 2.1 mills. That would amount to an additional $50 in taxes per $100,000 of assessed real estate value.

"Even with the tax increase, Lititz Borough will still have the second lowest tax rate among county boroughs, with only Ephrata Borough having a lower tax rate," said borough manager Sue Ann Barry. She placed emphasis on the fact this ranking applied to county boroughs and not all Lancaster County municipalities.

This .5 mill tax increase is the first such increase since the 2007 budget.

In previous meetings, budget chairman Shane Weaver proposed the rate increase with a certain degree of hope that another such increase might be staved off for another year or two. He did, however, concede that a number of challenges may make that a difficult goal to meet with the ongoing economic situation and the new changes in the way Earned Income Taxes are assessed and collected, having an uncertain impact on the local budget.

According to Barry, the average house in the borough is assessed at $138,000.

Weaver explained to council that his committee considered proposing a lower tax rate but felt it would not be the fiscally responsible thing to do.

"In the rosiest scenario this possibility left no wiggle room and the potential for real cash flow issues as early as 2013," explained Weaver. "This could force us to draw on a line of credit just to continue operating. "

Council members were supportive of the move, if not completely regretful that the time had come for such a move.

At Tuesday night’s meeting the motion to OK the 2012 budget, along with the motion to approve the tax increase ordinance, was passed without further discussion or fanfare. Previously, however, several council members had commented on the measure.

"We have no choice," noted Council member Ruth Fry McKennon at a budget conference held in late November. "It’s not that we want to, but we have to."

Council President Karen Weibel expressed similar feelings.

"We can certainly look again next year at how we spend money and on what," she noted. "But we only have so many cuts left to make. This borough has never operated with flagrant or extravagant spending in our programs."

Weibel also pointed out that the administration has been operating at reduced staffing levels similar to those seen as far back as 2005. She added that the police force has also been careful to not add any numbers to their force in the past 10 years. And in public works, except for the occasional part-time seasonal help, has also maintained a very tight work force in an effort to keep costs down.

"I find the idea of making payroll on a line of credit as irresponsible as possible," said Weibel. "We cannot put ourselves potentially into such a difficult position."

It was noted at Tuesdays meeting that the budget had been advertised in this newspaper as available for public review and comment. During this period no residents stopped by the municipal building to review the budget, nor had there been any comments or questions raised by phone, mail or e-mail.

Tuesday’s meeting also marked the end of an era. After 25 years of service to the borough, council member Ruth Fry McKennon retired, opting to not stand for reelection in last month’s election.

"I can honestly say I have thoroughly enjoyed every moment of it," said McKennon. "I’ve met such nice people along the way."

It was also the final council session for Junior Council Member Anna Workman. The Linden Hall senior is the second local student to serve in this position and has served since September.

Workman said that serving on council had been an incredible experience and that she had learned quite a bit. She added that she had no idea how intricate and complex local government could be. More BOROUGH COUNCIL, page A18