Bellefonte residents can expect higher municipal taxes next year — but the rise could have been worse.
The Borough Council unanimously approved its $19.1 million 2015 budget Monday, which included a 0.75 mill tax increase to balance the general fund’s $3.4 million budget. The council also passed a 0.7 mill tax increase last year.
Most of the latest tax increase will be earmarked for road work in the general fund and will account for $75,000 in revenue to the borough. Households will see an average tax increase of about $30 a year.
Borough Manager Ralph Stewart and finance Director Lori Walker did not return requests for comment.
The borough faced a $196,000 budget deficit last month, which would have forced a 2 mill tax increase. After the council’s Nov. 17 meeting, Stewart said the borough and council would try to decrease the deficit to avoid increasing taxes.
“Every year is tight, because our tax base doesn’t grow, so it’s a very stagnant tax base,” Stewart said last month. “We’re nearly 100 percent filled out, so we have very little new development that adds to additional revenue. So we’re minus both of those and stagnant in both of those areas, and typically older boroughs, older municipalities and older cities have this exact same problem.”
Council also announced that the borough has received Key-stone Community designation from the state Department of Community and Economic Development. The designation could bolster local businesses with state and federal funding.
“I think we have a lot of advantages now that will help move us in a very positive way,” the borough’s Keystone Community development coordinator, Vana Dainty, said. “With everyone working together to make this happen and with backing of the state you have an edge and more capabilities to be at the top of the list for grants through the program. If there’s a grant we want to apply for, and of course we have to meet the criteria and make sure the application is complete, we can get it if the money is available.”
Dainty gained the council’s support July 7 to apply for the designation, which could make businesses in Bellefonte’s central and waterfront districts eligible for facade grant money to restore parts of historic buildings more quickly than communities without Keystone Community designations.
It also could help businesses in the designated area eligible for programs such as a revolving loan fund, enabling them to take out loans and pay them back with interest to make the fund sustainable.
“Anything positive that happens from this benefits the entire area,” Dainty said.
The designation will last until December 2019, and the borough would have to reapply for it in early 2019 for it to continue into 2020.