Thursday, December 6, 2018

Pottstown Tax Hike Whittled Down to 9.5 percent

Photos by Evan Brandt
Santa only delivered candy canes, not budget cuts, to borough council Wednesday night. But beleaguered taxpayers are getting an early Christmas gift .... kind of. The threatened 12 percent tax hike has been cut to 9.46 percent.

'Tis the season of giving, so never let it be said that we at The Digital Notebook never gave you anything.

Today we give the gift of good news ... kind of.

Remember when the $48.9 million budget was unveiled in October and it was calling for a 12 percent tax ax hike? We have trouble forgetting it since it would have been the second 12 percent tax hike in two years.

The key words in that last sentence are "would have been..."

It seems that as the budget adoption date draws closer, the tax hike has dropped. Borough Manager Justin Keller told council Wednesday night staff has whittled it down to 9.46 percent.

He pointed out that the 2019 budget calls for less actual spending than the 2018 budget, and that, as of Oct. 31, spending in 2018 is down in a number of categories over 2017.

He ticked them off:
  • Administration spending is down 29.2 percent over 2017
  • Legal costs are down 16 percent over 2017
  • Engineering costs are down 50 percent over 2017
  • General government spending is down 50 percent over 2017
  • Police overtime is down 20 percent over 2017
  • Police court overtime is down 57 percent over 2017
So why are taxes still going up?

Keller laid the blame on two major factors.

FUTURE LEADERS?: The graduating class of the most recent
Pottstown Ciutizens Leadership Academy was
announced last night.
The first was the $1 million increase in pension obligations for 2019.

"That one kind of hit us by
surprise," Keller said. The 16 percent increase "is a big number," he said.

The other was big tax refunds to large commercial properties which had challenged their property assessments and won.

The biggest of those was the $360,000 the borough has to pay back to the owners of the moribund Pottstown Center shopping center at 799 State St. after the court decision on an assessment challenge.

The good news, if there can be said to be any, is that assessments seem to have leveled out and challenges are diminishing.

Keller said as the budget stands now, the millage rate will be 12.675 mills, up from the current rate of 11.58 mills.

Council will vote Monday on advertising the budget and new tax rate, after which the tax rate can go down, but not up. Final adoption of the budget is likely to be at the end of December.

New police sub-station

Council also will vote Monday on a proposal to re-establish a police sub-station in the First Ward, near to the sites of a murder and a shooting last month.

It's been five years since the police had a sub-station in the First Ward. The previous location was adjacent to the Chestnut Street Park.

A new police sub-station could seen be located here.
The new location, presuming council approves the move, will be space being offered free of charge in the Beech Street Factory building, once Fecera's Furniture Warehouse, at the corner of Beech and North Evans Street.

Given that two of the three recent gun crimes involved locations on North Evans Street, it seems like a good spot.

The most recent shooting, Nov. 30, was the discovery of a victim who had actually been shot in Warwick Township in Chester County, but came to a residence in the 400 block of North Evans Street rather than go to a hospital. Go figure.

The night before, a shooting victim as discovered three blocks south on North Evans Street.

On Nov. 18, Sylvia Williams was shot and killed inside her home in the 300 block of North Washington Street during a home-invasion robbery.

Ten days later, Aaron Joseph Taylor, 18, of the first block of West Second Street, was arrested, along with a 17-year-old juvenile, in connection with the crime.

Last night, Mayor Stephanie Henrick, used her monthly Mayor's report to comment on the gun violence.

Here is what she said:

Councilman Ryan Procsal, who represents the First Ward, later said that gun violence must be taken seriously.

He said he hoped before committing more, would be shooters ask themselves "do they want to spend their next 25 years, or their entire life in jail? Because that's what's going to happen to them."

Odds and ends

A few other nuggets of interest from last night:

  • The Pottstown Land Bank has been reviewing its policies and before presenting them to council, is looking for input from, among others, the citizens of Pottstown. They can read them and provide comments here, through a link on the borough website.
    PAID's new website application.
  • Speaking of websites, Peggy Lee-Clark, the executive director of the the borough's economic development agency, Pottstown Area Industrial Development Inc., gave a presentation on PAID's new website application. If focuses on commercial and industrial properties that are available, particularly in the new opportunity zones created in the tax reform passed by Congress. Within those zones, investors can buy properties or invest in businesses and by-pass capital gains taxes for 10 years.
  • In addition to voting on a new contract with the Montgomery County Planning Commission Monday for planning services, council will be asked to approve a second contract with the county planners. This one will make use of a federal grant to look at and perhaps change the zoning along Keim Street in preparation for what Keller said is the expected start of construction on a new Keim Street Bridge in 2020.
  • And, in case you didn't notice the photo above, a certain North Pole resident made his way to Pottstown a little early to wish council and all of the borough a Merry Christmas:

And with that, here are the Tweets and other video from the meeting.

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