Townships of Centre Region holding line on property taxes

Residents in the Centre Region’s five townships got some good news this holiday season from their local municipalities.

Ferguson, Patton, Halfmoon and Harris townships will not pass along tax increases in their recently approved 2014 budgets.

College Township, which won’t vote on its final budget until Monday, is also expected to keep taxes at current levels.

Only State College is mulling a tax increase among the Centre Region municipalities. Borough Council members there will vote Monday on whether to accept a proposed budget that carries a 1.5 mill tax increase, or to use reserve funds as one member has suggested and forgo a tax increase.

College Township Council members are expected to vote Monday on a final budget that will hold real estate taxes at 4.90 mills. The vote will follow a public hearing on the budget also set for Monday.

Township Manager Adam Brumbaugh, in his message to council, said that while a tax increase isn’t necessary in 2014, there are “significant budgetary challenges that the township will face in 2015 and beyond.”

The 2014 budget shifted some incoming money from the fire protection, road machinery and general funds to deal with needs in the debt service and parks and recreation funds.

Brumbaugh said those changes address shortfalls in the debt service and parks funds, but that a tax increase could be needed as soon as 2015 to “adequately fund parks and replenish the (general fund) and the fire fund.” The township raised taxes 0.50 mills in 2013.

The largest increases in the 2014 budget include $173,725 for the parks fund, $162,051 for state highway projects fund and $62,000 for police services, according to the budget report.

The budget contains a shortfall that will be bridged by using money from the general fund. The projected 2014 year-end general fund balance is $461,429, which is just above the required minimum amount of $433,989.

Patton Township supervisors voted Wednesday on a 2014 budget that holds taxes at 8.9 mills. The budget has a shortfall of $858,399, and cash reserves will be used to make up the difference.

The township has a policy to keep a cash balance of 8 percent to 12 percent of its expenditures in any given year. Cash reserves were 27.2 percent of expenditures in 2013, but that number is expected to drop to 13.8 percent in 2013 and 7 percent in 2014.

Township Manager Douglas Erickson said in his budget report that officials will have to bring revenues in line with needed expenditures.

The 2014 spending plan includes about $2 million for the Waddle Road interchange improvement project. Officials said expenditures for the project are running behind budgeted amounts for the high-priority project.

The additional money pushed budgeted construction costs to nearly $3 million, up from $851,000 last year.

In Ferguson Township, the supervisors voted Dec. 9 to hold real estate taxes at 2.422 mills, the seventh year in a row without an increase.

Manager Mark Kunkle has said that total net expenses are projected at $12.7 million while revenues are expected to be $11.2 million. The budget calls for $411,000 from the general fund and other monies to make up the difference.

Kunkle said that despite the dip, the general fund retains a “healthy balance going forward.”

The general fund budget carries a 1.9 percent increase in expenditures from 2013. Overall spending is significantly down, however, because a major road construction project is off the books.

Total expenses are down nearly $4 million, or about 23.5 percent, from 2013, when the West Whitehall Road widening and reconstruction project pushed the township’s capital expenses to an unusually high level.

Harris Township supervisors voted Dec. 9 to hold real estate taxes at 3.5 mills for general purposes and 1.3 mills for fire projection. 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.

Halfmoon Township supervisors voted in November to pass a 2014 budget that held property taxes at 2013 levels.