Harris Township looking to add new maintenance facility in 2014

No tax or fee increases are proposed in the township’s 2014 budget, which the Board of Supervisors gave tentative approval Tuesday night.

But 2014 will include talks about a new maintenance facility to replace the current, insufficient building behind the township offices.

The board will hold a public hearing on the budget at the Dec. 9 meeting, which starts at 7:30 p.m. at the township building, 224 E. Main St., Boalsburg. The board may then make a final vote.

In the meantime, residents can look over the budget between 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. at the township building.

Tax rates are set to remain at 3.5 mills for the township and 1.3 mills for the fire company. One mill equates to $178,000.

Township residents have seen few tax increases in the past two decades. The last was 0.2 mills in 2011 and, before that, around 2002.

The general fund budget is set at just more than $1.9 million, a slight increase over the 2013 budget.

Manager Amy Farkas said that about a third of that funds the township’s participation in Centre Region Council of Governments services, one-third typically funds police services and the rest funds other township services.

While there aren’t anticipated changes in the budget, Farkas said the maintenance facility is a big capital project likely on the horizon.

“We’ve needed a new maintenance facility for 25 years,” she said. “We’ve outgrown where we are.”

She said the township will consider borrowing money in 2014 to buy land for a new facility, leaving the township offices in the current location in the village. It’s not yet known how much money will be needed.

“Historically, we’ve wanted to keep our township office in the village,” she said. “It’s walkable. We have a lot of residents who stop in, which we love. We don’t want to lose that.”

But Farkas said that office neighbors likely will appreciate not having to hear snowplows fire up at 2 a.m.

The township last borrowed money in 2001 to pay for road work and is two years away from paying it back.

“It’s an exciting project for the township,” she said.

Harris contracts with State College for law enforcement services, and Police Chief Tom King suggested the township increase the hours per week to 76, based on this year’s to-date service needs.

The township requested 73 hours for 2013, and Farkas said the board is requesting 74 for 2014.

While preparing for this year’s budget discussion, Farkas said she was more optimistic than in previous years because the economy is bouncing back and real estate is moving in Harris.

“COG taking a stance on only increasing 3 percent this year was huge,” she said of that staff’s commitment, based on elected officials’ request. “That’s a big chunk of our budget, and it helped us immensely.”

Looking ahead, Farkas said it’s encouraging to see the real estate transfer tax higher than in the previous three or four years. And with just eight staff members, the township is “small, but mighty,” she said.

“We try to be mindful of the fact that we’re spending taxpayer money,” she said.