Philipsburg OKs budget|
Tuesday, December 4, 2012
By Wendy Lynn Brion Staff Writer
The Philipsburg Borough Council held a special meeting last night in order to review and pass the 2013 budget.
The borough is required to pass a budget before Dec. 31, but any budget can be reopened after the beginning of the year if new information becomes available to the borough.
There are three parts to the Philipsburg budget and the council first reviewed the highway aid portion. Projected income for 2013 is $67,093, which is down slightly from the 2012 budget and includes such things as liquid fuels, state turnback funds and other revenues. The projected expenses are also $67,093 and include things such as administration, snow removal, traffic signal maintenance, equipment purchases and repairs, etc.
Council President Fred Grauch noted that the state shared revenues have gone down about 4 percent from last year and the borough has no control over that.
Council member Barbara Gette requested that the council go through the budget line by line and after Grauch pointed out that she had been to the other budget meetings and nothing had changed from the last one she said, "Things change in this office daily."
The council took some time to review the budget and Gette noted that they are almost $9,000 under budget this year for repairs to tools and equipment, which she said is good.
The highway aid budget was approved with board members Grauch, Gette, Sam Womer, Dave Dixon and Mike Wilkes voting yes and Walt Chorle voting no. Council member Harry Wood was not present.
Prior to the vote Chorle raised an objection saying Philipsburg is the highest taxed community in the county and the council needs to look at this issue and make changes. Grauch responded that highway aid is not affected by taxes and Chorle responded that how the money is spent matters, regardless of where it is coming from.
The sewer fund was next to be reviewed and Chorle pointed to $1.5 million being held in reserve and said it is "a sin" for the borough to charge a higher rate for sewerage. He said the borough needs to start paying back loans.
Gette added that she understands why they are holding the reserve but that she also feels they need to start paying back the loans.
After a few minutes of review, where Grauch noted the budget committee has been trying to break down the budget even more to show where the money goes, Chorle again raised the issue of high sewerage rates, noting that the economically depressed community struggles to afford the cost.
Gette also pointed to a $30,000 difference between the sewer fund and the general fund, an issue revisited in more depth later in the meeting.
After some discussion the board voted to accept this budget as well with Grauch, Wilkes, Dixon and Womer voting in favor and Chorle and Gette voting no. The sewer fund balances at $1,106,252.
Jim Washburn, a resident of Rush Township, asked if he could ask about the sewerage billing. He asked first about payments on loans and Chorle said the borough is paying only on the interest, but Grauch read numbers indicating both the interest and principal are being paid on. Washburn also asked about how billing is done in the borough in order to compare it to Rush Township and about charging per equivalent dwelling unit as opposed to flow based billing, which he thought would be more fair, especially in regards to rarely used dwellings, etc.
Chorle remarked that Grauch does not support flow based billing, however as the conversation continued Grauch indicated that he does. He explained that the Moshannon Valley Joint Sewer Authority is mounting flow meters throughout the system in order to track the flow for each member municipality. He said in about a year or so they should have a good idea of how much flow each municipality has into the sewer system and the municipalities should also be tracking down infiltration in the system and working to eliminate it. "The big thing is getting infiltration out," he said. At that point they will be able to begin transitioning to flow based billing with a base rate.
Chorle said he believes the borough could be using flow based billing now based on water usage.
Gette added that she is willing to wait another 12-18 months while the monitoring takes place, but then she said they really need to look at the issue again.
The final section reviewed by the council was the general fund. Grauch noted some adjustments to the budget, pointing to the real estate tax estimate being lowered to something closer to what the borough has been receiving. He also noted that TV cable franchise fee has gone down due to more and more people switching to satellite. He also noted they have worked to keep better track of some costs, reflected in the budget as well, including the secretary's pay and expenses.
Gette brought up the $30,000 again. In the budgets, $79,000 comes from the sewer budget and is put into the general fund. Subtracting employee expenses, there is still $30,000 unaccounted for in the general budget. Grauch and borough manager Jan McDonald explained that the money is there, but scattered throughout the rest of the budget and isn't in one specific place. Chorle suggested they should keep better track of that money and that he feels the sewer customers are funding part of general funding, which isn't right.
After several minutes of discussion on the matter, Grauch called for a vote and again the budget passed 4-2 with Chorle and Gette voting no. Chorle again raised the issue of high taxes in the borough, noting that Philipsburg's millage rate is 15.75, which he said is higher than even Bellefonte. He said the council needs to find a way to lower taxes and the borough is wasting taxpayer money.
Total income and expenditures in the general fund budget is projected at $984,801.