Bellefonte mulls small tax increase for 2014

The Borough Council is considering a small tax increase to yield a financial cushion in next year’s $3.24 million budget.

Property owners would see their tax bills increase, on average, by $30, according to the proposed budget scenario the council considered Monday. This budget proposes a 0.7-mill tax increase, and the spending plan will be made available to the public and then put up for a final vote Dec. 16.

“There is no room for error without an increase,” borough Manager Ralph Stewart said. “A small increase is a better way to go than waiting, and maybe next year (considering) a very significant increase because we didn’t do anything this year.”

The 2014 proposed spending plan includes flat-lined real estate revenues and a $275,000 grant to pay for street work. It also includes salary increases for police officers, and it would reduce contributions to the Centre County Library and the Centre Area Transportation Authority.

The tentative budget provides $2.76 million in various revenues, with the largest share coming from real estate taxes projected at $941,000. That’s slightly more than the $940,001 the borough is projecting to receive in 2013.

Other chunks of projected revenues include:

•  $566,500 in earned income tax revenue. That’s about on par with the $567,637 estimated for 2013.

•  $275,000 from the state and federal emergency management agencies to repair storm drains and the pavement on West Lamb Street after flooding from a storm in late June. The borough is budgeting for the same amount of money on the expense side.

•  $125,000 in parking meter revenue, which is down from the $129,648 projected this year.

The borough would get $485,000 in contributions from the water, sewer and refuse services that put total revenues at $3.24 million.

On the expense side, more than half of revenue is budgeted to pay for the Bellefonte police force, whose cost is set at slightly more than $1.4 million.

Uniformed officers’ salaries make up half of projected police expenses for 2014, at $730,500, which would be a little more than a 2.5 increase over the $712,644 expected in 2013. Stewart said the salary increases are defined in union contracts.

The borough is planning to pay $255,000 in officers’ health care expenses and $157,775 in retirement contributions. The health care expense is flat from 2013, and the retirement contribution estimate is about an 8 percent increase over this year.

In addition, the borough is budgeting $10,000 so that Chief Shawn Weaver can replace one of the cruisers in his fleet with a used vehicle or hold the money for 2015.

The budget also calls for $976,000 in spending on public works, which includes $255,500 in projected salaries, $93,000 in health insurance and $49,000 in retirement contributions.

There is also a budget line for $15,000 to be used to install a blinking safety light in front of the Undine Fire Company on Bishop Street. That money would come from a county liquid fuels grant, Stewart said.

The borough is shaving a little off its CATA contributions, from $19,500 in 2013 to $17,215 for 2014. Stewart said that might result in the elimination of one run, but he said he’s seen some buses that are empty.

The Centre County Library would get $24,525 under the budget, which is down from $27,250 set aside for 2013. Stewart said the borough kicked up its contributions in previous years for a capital project at the library, and the borough would like to return to the lower funding before that project.