Thursday, November 10, 2016

Proposed 5% Pottstown Tax Hike Down to 3.5%

Grainy photos by Evan Brandt

This chart, part of Finance Director Janice Lee's 2017 budget presentation to Pottstown Borough Council, shows assessment challenges have put the borough's total assessed property value below where it was in 1999.

It  was a full agenda Wednesday night, a fact that saddened an aging reporter still recovering from a marathon election night shift, but council came through it all in two hours so I can stay awake to bring you this report tonight.

The most newsworthy element of the agenda was Number 11, a presentation on a proposed 2017 budget.

Last month, Borough Manager Mark Flanders warned that taxpayers could be facing a jump of as much as 4.87 percent in the borough's property tax.

Citing a $380,627 deficit, Flanders pointed to a projected 20 percent hike in health care costs, rising expenses and a constant drum beat of property assessment challenges.

While costs are still rising, Finance Director Janice Lee reported that by changing carriers and altering the parameters of the plan, the expected increase in health care costs is now down to 7 percent.
893 successful assessment reductions since 2012 have
cost the borough 

$224,146 in revenue losses.

However, assessment challenges remain, well, a challenge.

According to Lee, there have been 893 successful property assessment challenges since 2012, 209 in the last year alone, that have cut revenues by $224,146.

Without those reductions, the deficit in the proposed budget would drop from $269,225 to $45,079.

Although Flanders said last month the draft 2017 budget expenses were $1 million less than the current year, Lee told council Wednesday that the draft calls for spending only $401,775 less than the 2016 budget.

Lee also warned council against looking again to the reserves to balance its general fund budget (all the other funds are balanced.)

She said from 2014 to 2016, council took $459,182 out of reserves. Combine that with $850,000 over-run in 2015 and the practice has cut $1.3 million from the money available for 2017.

Granted, those withdrawals from reserves did provide for three years with no tax hike in the last four years, but the practice now has the potential to drop the reserves to a level below that recommended by municipal accountants, said Lee.

Lee warned against further use of reserve funds to avoid tax hikes.
The proposed budget already calls for not filling a window position in the Inspections and Licensing Department, and provides for only two new police cars instead of the four requested by the department.

Lee said those are the only two departments that exist entirely within the general fund, in response to a remark by Councilman Dennis Arms that the public needs to understand cutting a position or expense at the sewer plant or on the road crew does not help close the deficit in the general fund.

That leaves council in the position of voting Monday to advertise a draft budget that would raise taxes by 3.49 percent.

Under this plan, the millage rate would increase from the current 10.311 mills to 10.66 mills. For a home assessed at $85,000, that means an annual increase of $29.68 on the 2017 property tax bill. But it's not a done deal yet.

Arms, who said "I can't vote for any budget that includes a tax increase," urged council not to vote Monday to advertise the budget, a move made necessary by legal requirements of public notice  but only if council plans no further meetings in November.

Arms and Council Vice President Sheryl Miller both argued that council should schedule some budget sessions to try to get the tax increase down.

Council President Dan Weand said voting to advertise the draft budget does not preclude having additional work sessions, but Arms said "once it goes into the newspaper, I will start getting calls."

Weand pointed at this reporter and said "it's already out there on Twitter."

The second class of the Citizens Leadership Academy with their certificates.

In  other news, the second class of the Citizens Leadership Academy had their brief graduation at Wednesday's council meeting. Significantly, the class included Borough Councilwoman Carol Kulp.

Council also received a presentation from Hill School Treasurer Don Silverson about the school's proposed new $21 million science building, called the Quadrivium.

It is to be built behind and attached by an atrium to the existing library on campus and replace an outdated science facility built in the 1930s.

Council will vote Monday on whether to apply for a PECO grant to help pay for a new pavilion in Riverfront Park, this one near the parking area at the head of the Schuylkill River Trail off Keystone Boulevard.

Council also heard about the new Pottstown Works program from Wendy Egolf at the Salvasion Army and seemed quite interested.

But you can read all about that in the Tweers below.


  1. Evan - Any idea if Council is given access to the individual department budgets and how these budgets were derived? I asked that question to a council member a few years ago and was told they do not see the individual breakdowns and rely on the Borough Manager to make sure all is correct. Can you try to get the individual budgets and THE SPECIFICS for each department and lets all see if there is waste that could be cut. Thank you, KP

    1. I'm afraid I do not know the answer to that KP.

      If that happens at all, I suspect only the members of council's finance committee get that information, but I could not confirm that happens either.

      I would ask Councilman Dennis Arms, as I believe he is on the finance committee and has been outspoken about not voting to a tax hike.

      However, I believe the budget the borough posts on its web site, at least the adopted budget, may well contain the information you are looking for.

      I'm afraid we don't have the time or staff to fulfill your requests and get the departmental budgets, but as a citizen, you can request them yourself through a Right to Know request.

      I hope that helps.