In light of potential impacts on the community, several proposals to cut the budget were not well-received by Borough Council members Monday.
The proposed cuts presented by borough Manager Tom Fountaine would reduce the millage rate increase at the expense of certain programs and funding. A 3.36 mill real estate tax increase is proposed with the 2015 budget, which is expected to bring $1.5 million into the borough.
The first among the proposed cuts would be the cancellation of the Homestead Investment Program, an initiative intended to expand housing, particularly workforce housing, within the borough. Canceling the program would eliminate the real estate transfer tax increase, Fountaine said, but would also eliminate a $10,000 small-business grant, saving the borough 0.01 mills.
A reduction in community grants would save the borough 0.08 mills, he said, and would end grants to C-NET, watershed monitoring and the State Theatre. Some grants, such as the $7,325 to ClearWater Conservancy, would not be affected.
Never miss a local story.
Other proposed cost savings include canceling the lease agreement for the bus station, discontinuing management or selling Bellaire Court and privatizing the sewer or refuse systems.
Council was advised not to reduce the fund balance by 12 percent to 10 percent, which would not increase revenue and could negatively affect the borough’s credit rating.
Reducing services was also discouraged in the presentation Fountaine gave to the council.
“I think overall this budget has been put together based upon the existing programs the borough has approved in the past,” Fountaine said. “Any areas staff thought we could make reductions and savings were done before the budget was presented to council.”
Councilman Evan Myers said reducing community grants at the last minute — such as the $10,000 State Theatre grant — doesn’t give community members a chance to explain how that will affect them. He suggested such cuts be discussed earlier in the process.
“It’s difficult to make this decision because we don’t have that much information,” he said. “It hits the council and the community in the face.”
Privatization of any public services was vocally dismissed by several council members. Councilwoman Theresa Lafer said privatization was loss of control.
“Any Monopoly player knows it’s called a public utility,” she said. “When they go private, they become for profit. And when they’re for profit, they’re not for the people who use them, period.”
Councilman Peter Morris laughed at the idea that rent for Bellaire Court, which houses low-income older residents, would remain the same if sold to a private owner.
Councilwoman Sarah Klinetob discouraged cutting grants, saying those reductions only save 0.08 mills. Using a median assessed home value of $66,200, this would have saved a homeowner $1.04 a year during the past five years.
“If we do a ‘Hail Mary’ cut, I’m not going to sleep better feeling like I saved an average homeowner 8.7 cents a month,” she said.
The proposed 2015 budget will see revenues of $24.2 million and expenditures of $25 million. About $811,523 will be used from the fund balance, leaving $4.7 million. A 0.25 percent real estate tax increase is projected to add $155,000 in revenue.
Council is scheduled to adopt the proposed budget during the Dec. 15 regular meeting.