Plymouth Council worked out the remaining details of the township's 2013 budget at its final budgetary meeting Monday night, setting the table for its passage at a regular meeting on December 10.
As proposed, the budget will not raise taxes, leaving the township millage rate at 1.6 mills. A home assessed at $180,000, average for the township, will pay $288 in real estate taxes for all municipal services. Council was quick to point out that taxes have not been raised in the township since 1990, and were actually lowered during the last adjustment in 1996.
"I challenge any municipality in Pennsylvania to show me they haven't raised taxes in 20 years, and I credit the staff," said chair Sheldon Simpson. "But that's rapidly coming to an end. We're probably not going to make 24 years."
Council's 2013 budget shows a deficit of approximately $1.3 million, as expenditures are expected to reach $20 million (+3.2%) against $18.7 million in revenue (+6.4%). Township finance director Tim Creelman said that Council will use its projected $6.7 million fund balance to pay down the deficit in 2013, and added that the gap usually closes throughout the year.
"Each year the department heads historically spend about 4 to 5 percent less than what Council approves," Creelman said at an earlier budget meeting. "Historically, that would turn out to be about [a gap of] $765,000."
Council announced that they have approved the hiring of at least two police officers in 2013, after police chief Joseph Lawrence requested five from Council at the first budgetary meeting. Simpson said that aside from the guaranteed officers, who he hopes would be on the street by the start of spring, Council would consider adding an additional one or two officers depending on the financial situation of the township at mid-year.
"We're seeing the numbers, we're still in a deficit," said Simpson. "But I told [the police], we're on board."
Council also said they would support an increase of funding to the Harmonville and Plymouth Fire Companies, albeit with a stipulation and not to the amount the company chiefs requested during an earlier budgetary meeting. Staff said they were currently working to get the handful of full-time employees at the two companies on the township's DVHIT healthcare plan, which should be a cost-saving measure.
After those numbers are finalized, Council said they would approve up to three percent increases, or $14,000 for Harmonville and $12,000 for Plymouth in the springtime. Harmonville originally requested $36,000 from Council, and Plymouth $4,000, and neither company has had an increase in three years, staff said.
Councilman Dean Eisenberger said the approach was "fair" to both companies.
"That's what they're really looking for, is the insurance break," said Eisenberger. "They're getting killed on health insurance."
The budget proposed $3.75 million in capital expenditures, including $1 million for intersection improvements at Sandy Hill Road and Belvoir Avenue, $430,000 for the construction of a culvert on Narcissa Road, $153,000 in township building repairs and upgrades, and $131,500 for three new police patrol vehicles and two police motorcycles.
Council warned that upcoming costs regarding employee retirement benefits and upgrades to the county emergency radio system will likely place a strain on the township's budget.
"We have the unfunded healthcare audit---everybody needs to know that's a million dollars," said Eisenberger. "Mandatory retirement healthcare discounts, which give employees healthcare when they retire… we're either going to have to pay for it now or pay for it later."
Simpson said he also was concerned over the "hidden cost" of the benefit.
"We have an age group that's going to sooner or later retire, and we have to fund that," Simpson said. "I've made it known that we're not going to be the Council that passes the buck to the next council."
See the PDF in this article's media section for a more detailed look at the proposed 2013 budget.