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$38M budget vote Monday Council plans to hold line on lowest borough tax rate in the county
By: GARY P. KLINGER Review Correspondent, Staff Writer
Even with expenditures budgeted to exceed revenues, the budget proposed for adoption by Ephrata Borough Council will be in balance with no proposed increases in tax rates.
To make this happen, however, the borough will need to make a transfer of $1,392,459 from the electric fund to the general fund to bring the budget into balance. That represents 7.825 percent of total estimated electric sales of $17,795,000.
Total projected revenues of $37,835,666 will fall a bit short of projected expenditures of $38,383,299.
"Budgeting the balance when revenues are stagnate and expenses are continually increasing is always challenging," commented director of administration and finance Gail Bare. "The department managers did a great job this year in putting together a budget that allowed us to continue with the same level of service with no increase in our real estate tax and no utility rate increases. We continue to have the lowest borough real estate tax rate in Lancaster County and our utility rates are competitive."
Bare also commented on the coming year.
"We anticipate continuing to provide excellent services and meet the needs of the community," said Bare. "Exciting projects next year include the airing of the Today in America video, bidding and awarding the project for the Warwick to Ephrata railtrail and developing a strategy to address economic development."
Bare will be making a special presentation on the budget to council at next Monday night’s regular voting session. The public is welcomed and encouraged to attend.
Council member Melvin Weiler questioned fellow council members on the fact 2013 appropriations were greater than projected revenues.
"The appropriation from the electric fund to the general fund will make up the difference," said council member Susan Rowe.
Borough manage Bob Thompson also pointed out that a similar transfer in sanitation made it possible to hold the line on water and sewer rates.
"The fund balance was growing in sanitation so we decided not to raise rates but draw down the balance," noted Thompson. "The same goes with the sewer fund so that the balance does not increase. The general fund is balanced with the other funds self-balanced by the collection of rates. Those not in balance are drawing off the fund balance."
The proposed 2013 budget still fell short by $35,000. Last month borough council agreed to raise the percentage that could be transferred from the electric fund to the general fund from the 7.75 percent it has been set at for several years to a new maximum of 10 percent. In its final form, the transfer amounted to 8.25 percent.
Under the change, the borough had the flexibility to transfer up to 10 percent but did not need to utilize that entire amount for 2013. In 2012 that amount was $1.414 million.
With the budget in balance, council passed a new ordinance setting the 2013 tax rate at the same 2.07 mills it was for 2012. This translates into $207 per $100,000 in assessed property value.
In other borough council news:
?Members of the Development Activities Committee reported that the lowest bid for a proposed Wayfinding signage project came in at $160,740. Two-thousand dollars had been budgeted for the project. As such, the project will be tabled for the time being as the committee considers other signage options which might be beneficial to the community. The project was intended to assist those visiting the area to find various points of interest and landmarks throughout the community.
?At next Monday’s voting session, the Public Safety Committee will seek approval for a capital project to upgrade and replace the police department software package. Originally the department had received a bid from Metro Alert Technologies for a nine-license system at a cost of $43,000. But thanks to new negotiations, on Friday of last week, a new bid was submitted by Metro for 12 licenses at a cost of $42,958 with an additional savings of $728. And, if the order is placed by next week, the borough would receive an additional $600 signing bonus reducing the expenditure even further.
"The purpose of the new system is that our police officers can be administratively more efficient than with the system now in place," said committee chair Robert Good. "One savings we will see with this new system is that we won’t need as much overtime to type up a lot of reports. It will allow officers to be more efficient in their vehicles so they have more time to patrol and interact with the public and less time record keeping. This should be a win for all of us."
The police department will also seek approval to dispose of 12 Fujitsu computers with mounts. With several leads already received indicating interest in the old computers, borough manager Thompson indicates the sale could add up to $24,000 in revenue toward balancing the 2013 budget.
In other police-related business, councilman Good shared the concerns he received from a resident about the safety of school children after school. He said a resident called about concerns especially near the intersection of Oak and Fulton Streets.
"I’m concerned about kids coming home from both the Ephrata Middle School and the High School and cars going at excessive speeds," said Good. "There have been reports of kids even stepping out in front of some of these cars. To me, it seems like just a matter of time until someone gets hurt."
Good asked that the matter be added to the Public Safety Committee agenda for further discussion. He also asked that the Highway Committee discuss whether or not it might not be advantageous to add crosswalks or other measures to help protect both children and drivers.
In remarks to council, Police Chief William Harvey issued a word of warning, especially to senior citizens, to be on alert for scams perpetrated mostly on the telephone. Harvey noted that while there had not been any recent reports of such scams in Ephrata, the community was ripe for such attempts.
"Any time you get a phone call that just does not add up, please, call the police," urged Harvey. "Don’t fall for a ‘get-rich-quick’ scheme or be pressured to make certain decisions right away to get a better deal."
Harvey indicated the police force will continue to monitor the situation and be on alert to groups trying to target local residents with various forms of schemes aimed a bilking residents of their money or locking them into agreements they might not otherwise want to make.
For additional information on Ephrata Borough, please visit ephrataboro.org. Gary P. Klinger welcomes your comments, questions and suggestions via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. More COUNCIL, page A6