Bellefonte passes budget draft with no tax increase

Borough Council passed a draft budget without a tax increase by a 7-2 vote Monday.

Council members Randy Brachbill and Gay Dunne were the dissenting votes.

The budget, however, is not finalized. The borough will work to balance the general fund, which is at about a $49,000 deficit due to police expenses, down from what was once about a $118,000 shortage.

“I voted no, because it’s not a clear budget at this point,” Brachbill said. “There are things they will go back to do to balance it, so I don’t think they are done with it yet. I think we could have put the draft out with somewhat of an increase and then come back and said we don’t need (the increase).”

Dunne said she would have preferred a small tax increase.

“There is a general unpredictability of things as related to the general fund,” she said. “That’s why I voted no.”

If everything stayed the same with the borough’s drafted budget, borough Manager Ralph Stewart said hours before the meeting, he would have recommended a half mill tax increase. Given meetings with the police department and council’s finance committee, he is confident they will be able to balance the budget.

“For example, we were allocating a lot of the costs associated with parking administration to the police fund,” Stewart said. “We’re going to reallocate those to the parking revenues, because it really is better and more accurate to do that. The other point not brought up in main meetings is that the finance committee has committed to meet with the police department on a quarterly basis to look at where they are year-to-date and to keep things on course.”

The drafted budget will be available for public inspection at the borough building, and council is scheduled to vote on the budget at its Dec. 21 meeting.

Stewart said no services are slated to be cut in 2016.

“A lot of times we are locked into costs regardless of the economy,” Stewart said. “We’re constantly battling how to pay for existing obligations and maintaining high-quality public services. We never like to see cuts in services, so each year we try to look at innovative ways to keep everything.”

The borough expects its tax base to grow, in part, due to the waterfront development project, which is due for completion by May.

The Industrial Development Authority would then market the property for developers.

In other business, Councilman Joseph Beigle, who chairs the borough authority, said it will vote Dec. 15 on rate increases for the water and sewer funds. The water rate could increase 5 to 10 cents per 1,000 gallons, and the sewer rate could increase $7 per quarter.

Stewart asked council to consider contributing $1,000 to the Chamber of Business and Industry of Centre County. Council voted 8-1 to donate the money. Councilwoman Renee Brown voted no.

Council also unanimously approved 2016 meeting dates, but not times.

Council would meet the first and third Mondays of each month. The authority would meet the first Tuesday of each month. The Planning Commission would meet the fourth Monday of each month as needed. The Historical and Architectural Review Board would meet the second and fourth Tuesday of each month. The IDA would meet the second Wednesday of each month.

All meetings would be in the borough building’s council chambers.

Shawn Annarelli: 814-235-3928, @Shawn_Annarelli