Wednesday, November 24, 2010

E-town Area Water Authority moves its offices

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Did you know the Elizabethtown Area Water Authority office has moved? EAWA built a new water treatment plant at 211 W. Hummelstown St., and its offices have moved there permanently, as of Sept. 30. All payments should be mailed or delivered in person to the new offices. West Hummelstown Street is about one block to the north of Rita's on Market Street.

The new treatment plant received its operating permit from the state Department of Environmental Protection in early November and started treating and delivering water to customers on Nov. 8. EAWA is planning an open house in January for the public to see the $5 million investment.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Borough Council approves draft 2011 budget

Last week, Elizabethtown Borough Council approved a preliminary version of the borough's 2011 budget that contains a deficit of nearly $340,000. This draft is now open for public review at the borough office at 600 S. Hanover St.

In a separate vote, council set the maximum millage rate for 2011 at 5.4 mills, which is a 1.2 mills increase. State law requires that council set the millage rate now -- but it is not locked in place. Council can lower that rate, but it can't set the rate higher than 5.4 after the vote last week.

Council approved both the draft budget and the millage increase unanimously.

If you read this blog regularly, you know I've written about the budget already and the predicament that Borough Council is in when it comes to lower projected revenues.

Here's a word about the millage increase. If council keeps the millage increase at the level approved, a homeowner with an average assessment of $150,000 would see his taxes increase by $180 next year. This would generate nearly $526,000 in additional income, more than covering the deficit.

By comparison:
  • A 1 mill increase to 5.2 mills would mean a $150 increase to the average homeowner, generating $438,200 in additional income.
  • A .9 mill increase to 5.1 mills would mean a $135 increase, generating $394,398 in additional income.
  • A .8 mill increase to 5 mills would mean a $120 increase and $350,576 in additional income.
  • A .7 mill increase to 4.9 mills would mean a $105 increase and $306,754 in additional income.
It's a pretty drastic illustration and the reality of where things are when it comes to tax increases and what they generate in revenues.

Now a word,  in this one councilman's opinion, about a tax increase: Borough residents did not see a tax increase last year, thanks to spending cuts. We held the line and were able to squeak by for a year, but the economy has not improved enough to make up the difference. Any additional budget cuts would mean cutting services, and personally I am not willing to cut beyond the current level of services.

So although Borough Council set the millage rate at 5.4 for 2011, we can decide to lower it Dec. 16  when we approve the final budget. I am not in favor of an increase of more than 1 mill -- and I could be convinced of a lower rate that covers the deficit.

However, we also have to take into account some soft costs (such as engineering costs for work on extending West College Avenue) for some of the projects the borough is able to do thanks to state and federal grants. It would be irresponsible for Borough Council just to cover the deficit and not plan for covering those soft costs.

Do you have other ideas or thoughts? Let's hear them!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Costs of various goods and services in Elizabethtown

As Elizabethtown Borough Council considers and debates the borough's 2011 budget, here are some costs that many of us incur in Elizabethtown -- and they are things to think about and consider, especially when compared to your property taxes:

  • GEARS before and after school daycare (one child for 9 months): $3,120
  • Average annual electric bill for a customer with central air conditioning: $2,200
  • Price for filling up a 10-gallon gas tank once every other week: $1,144
  • Basic digital cable from Comcast: $720
  • Purchase one 20-ounce soda per day for a year: $507
  • Price of one cup of coffee at Turkey Hill a day for a year: $464
  • Elizabethtown's average real estate tax bill: $579
  • One Pennsylvania Lottery ticket per day for a year: $365
  • Sliver membership to Elizabethtown Fitness Center: $490
  • Basic telephone service: $360
  • Elizabethtown Borough sewer fee: $252
  • Willowood Swim Club membership for three months: $225
  • Elizabethtown Borough trash/recycling (one bag per week): $160
Thanks goes to the borough staff for compiling these numbers. It certainly puts things in perspective for me. If you think about it,  the services the borough provides -- such as 24-7 police protection, a code enforcement program, beautiful parks, recreation programming through GEARS, clean and safe roads, snow plowing, emergency management services, street sweeping, street lights, contributions to the Elizabethtown Fire Department and the Elizabethtown Public Library -- make living in this community a value.

    Saturday, November 6, 2010

    Borough's budget faces nearly $340,000 gap

    On Thursday, Elizabethtown Borough Council -- and only a small handful of the public, two of whom were reporters -- got its first look at the proposed 2011 budget. And it doesn't look pretty.

    The borough faces deficit of $338,890 -- and that is on a budget that is bare bones just covering the essentials and keeping services at their current levels. To the borough staff's credit -- from the borough manager and police chief on down -- they have held the line in costs and expenditures to the point that the proposed 2011 budget expenditures are less than 2008 and 2009.

    In terms of revenues, such as the earned income tax, the Lancaster County Tax Collection Bureau has advised Elizabethtown to budget less than 2010. For this current year, he borough projects that it will receive $997,000 in earned income taxes -- that is, the tax on the income from people's wages. Because of the unemployment rate and the economy, the tax collection bureau projects that Elizabethtown will receive $903,000 next year -- an 11 percent drop.

    Consider that in 2008, the earned income tax brought the borough nearly $1.2 million in revenue, and the drop has been precipitous.

    Consider, too, that the borough's capital reserve fund is virtually broke. That means there is no extra money set aside for a "rainy day," so to speak. So here's the philosophical rub on that: Isn't it fiscally prudent for the borough to plan ahead and set aside money just in case?

    Based on the conversation that my fellow councilmen and I had at last Thursday's council meeting, Elizabethtown residents are going to see some kind of tax increase. All of us are pretty much resigned to that. The question is, how big is the increase?

    The borough's millage rate for property taxes -- which generate $1.8 million in revenues -- is set at 4.2 mills right now. The average tax bill on a home assessed at $150,000 is $630.

    If Borough Council were to cover just the deficit and not set aside money for the future, the rate would have to increase to 5 mills, which would generate an extra $350,576. That would increase taxes on that average $150,000 home by $130, bringing the total average tax bill to $750.

    Increasing the rate beyond 5 mills, to say 5.1 or 5.2, would generate more revenue that the borough could set aside for the future -- in my mind, a move that keeps the long-term vitality of the borough in mind.

    Last year, at this point in the budgeting season, the deficit was even more significant -- and Borough Council asked staff to find places to cut 5 percent from the budget. Which they did. If we ask for more cuts, it will mean cutting services. Speaking as one councilman, I am determined to maintain services at the current level.

    One more thing: Let me remind you that the work that is happening in Elizabethtown now, and will happen soon, such as the train station work and the extension of West College Avenue, is all funded through grants. Those funds are dedicated to those projects and can't be used for our general operations -- and we are fortunate to have them. If Elizabethtown didn't receive them and take advantage of them, then some other community in Pennsylvania or elsewhere would just as gladly as we are.

    These are the questions and issues that we are wrestling with now. This is a budget that impacts you every day, from the time you flush your toilet to providing police protection. What is your response?

    Tuesday, November 2, 2010

    Participate in democracy and vote!

    It's Election Day all across the United States. If you don't know where to vote, please check out a great app by Google that shows you precisely where your polling place is. All you have to do is type in your address, and it will pinpoint your address and show the route to your polling place.

    As for the election, we are electing a new governor in Pennsylvania this year. Gov. Ed Rendell's term expires at the end of the year. Republican Tom Corbett and Democrat Don Onorato are vying for the office.

    In another statewide race, longtime Sen. Arlen Specter lost his reelection bid in the Democratic primary to U.S. Congressman Joe Sestak. Sestak and the Republican, former Congressman Pat Toomey, are battling for the seat.

    On the local level, U.S. Congressman Joe Pitts, the Republican incumbent, is facing a challenge for the third time from Democrat Lois Herr, an Elizabethtown resident.

    Finally, state Rep. Dave Hickernell is running unopposed to retain his seat in the state House of Representatives.

    Regardless of your political persuasion, I urge you to get out and vote. This is what makes the United States the country that it is, and these are the kinds of races that will impact the national agenda. By simply voting, you have a say in what happens with our country -- and nothing is more fundamental.