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Tax increase responsible thing to do, says council Lititz proposes .5 mill hike
By: GARY P. KLINGER Record Express Correspondent, Staff Writer
Lititz Borough residents moved a step closer to seeing a tax increase for the 2012 fiscal budget as borough council proposed a .5 mill boost. This is the first such increase since the 2007 budget, and council members pointed out that local residents will still enjoy what may be the lowest real estate tax rate among county boroughs.
Budget chairman Shane Weaver proposed the rate increase with a certain degree of hope that another such increase might be staved off for at least a year or two. He did, however, concede that a number of challenges may make that a difficult challenge to meet with the ongoing economic situation and changes in the way Earned Income Taxes are assessed and collected.
With a .5 mill increase, 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.
According to borough manager Sue 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.
"We have no choice," noted Council member Ruth Fry McKennon. "It’s not that we want to but we have to."
Council President Karen Weibel expressed similar feelings. She noted that even with the increase Lititz was still had the lowest or second lowest tax rates of the boroughs.
"We can certainly look again next year at how we spend money and on what," noted Weibel. "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 levels seen as far back as 2005. She added that the police force had 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 season 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."
The only change in the proposed budget was a recommendation by council member Doug Bomberger to increase the borough’s contribution to the fire company equipment fund by 2 3/4 percent, or $1,186. This account is specifically designated for the purchase of fire equipment and apparatus.
Mayor and Fire Chief Ron Oettel explained that the next apparatus scheduled to be replaced would be the ladder truck, which he said could be within the next 17 years. Of concern to Oettel, however, is the projected cost of such equipment which he said could be as high as $1.7 million. Oettel stressed the importance of planning for such contingencies way in advance.
In recent months, council has discussed the increasing challenges of funding the volunteer fire company. Council members were supportive, even congratulatory, of the superb job the local company does in providing excellent fire service. According to Oettel, the local company should have 15 responders, but on the average only have six. Yet, despite the challenges with funding and staffing, the Lititz community continues to enjoy the work of an extremely dedicated and highly trained fire company.
"We have not given the fire company an increase for equipment in six years," noted Bomberger in proposing the increase. "I feel it is time for us to re-focus our priorities. It addresses what I feel is an oversight. It is our legal responsibility to fund the fire company. We need to at least start somewhere and that’s why I am making this proposal."
Bomberger’s fellow council members were largely supportive. McKennon said she wished the borough could have afforded to give more. Councilman Kevin Zartman called the increase a good start.
But not everyone was in complete agreement with the move. Weibel expressed her reservations and ultimately cast the only "no" vote on the measure to increase that line item.
"I want to see a very clear plan by June," said Weibel in casting the her vote, challenging council to come up with a clear-cut plan of action to help the fire company with funding.
In the end, the motion to adopt the proposed budget and advertise it for public display passed "unanimously, but with regret."
Once advertised, borough residents will be able to review the budget for a period of 10 days prior to a final vote on the budget at the Dec. 20 meeting of borough council.
It should also be noted that the regularly scheduled Dec. 28 borough council meeting was rescheduled for Dec. 20. As with all borough council meetings, this meeting will be open to the public, with those attending invited to address council with their comments and questions.
If approved, the new budget would go into effect Jan. 1. " " More BOROUGH COUNCIL, page A2