Borough cuts electric rates, hikes library funding & holds line on taxes

By on December 10, 2014

Early presents

Ephrata Borough Council made it official Monday night approving a no-tax-increase budget for 2015.

But that vote was not unanimous as council president Dale Hertzog issued the only “no” vote on the adoption.

Before the final budget could be ratified, councilperson Susan Rowe had that item removed from the consent agenda, opening it up to further debate prior to a vote.Budget

“I believe borough council needs to be cognizant of over-depleting our fund balances,” said Rowe in a prepared statement. “We owe that not only to future councils, but also to the residents of the borough.”

With the approval of the $39,097,253 budget holding the line at 2.07 mills, Ephrata continues to have the lowest tax rate in the county among boroughs.

Rowe made several thought-provoking points on reflection of the new budget. With regard to the increase in library funding, which was included in this year’s budget, she acknowledged that not all of the information that had been requested by president Hertzog had been received.

“I will agree, however, to honor the increase in funding for the library for this budget, with the understanding that efforts will be made to keep the lines of communication open and transparent,” added Rowe.

Another concern for Rowe is the 150 tax-exempt properties which are spared over $125M in total taxes. She pointed out that tax-exempt properties benefit from the borough services funding by taxpayers, from snow removal on roads, to street lights and public safety.

“In my five years sitting on council, only one of those tax-exempt properties has offered a PILOT (Payment In Lieu Of Taxes),” said Rowe.

In her view, there were many positive elements included in the budget, from an aggressive effort to maintain the infrastructure to the new restricted economic development fund.

“For years I have indicated a desire to place an emphasis on this,” she added, thanking staff for hearing and developing a plan for this purpose.

Rowe said that 2015 will be a challenging year for the Budget and Finance Committee.

“We must pay close attention to, and be innovative and yes, even aggressive looking ahead to the 2016 budget,” Rowe concluded.

Hertzog, in his prepared comments again turned the conversation to issues regarding the Ephrata Public Library. He said that since his remarks last week, he has done additional research, which he presented to council.

In an email Hertzog received from Brian Dawson, state director of library development, Dawson clarified the issue of contributions to local libraries from a municipality. His resources indicated no exact amount suggested by the statutes.

Dawson later states, “I was able to locate reference to a $5 per capita standard as a benchmark to qualify for Quality Libraries Aid. This refers to financial effort but not necessarily support derived from a municipality.”

Hertzog indicated Dawson’s response only seemed to raise further questions.

“Per documents distributed by director (Penny) Talbert at a committee meeting, the borough currently has a total per capita contribution of $11.15,” said Hertzog. “If the state doesn’t want to recognize these non-cash contributions, that’s on them. The borough certainly leads the way with our support.”

A brochure Hertzog received from Talbert on state subsidies shows a chart with 59 percent of public library revenue coming from local government in 2007, but then goes to say, “local communities are responsible for funding basic library services.”

“If local government was funding approximately 60 percent of library revenue in the state in 2007, and with the state’s philosophy of who should fund libraries, I think their goal is to transfer funding of libraries completely over to local governments &tstr; it is their stated goal,” added Hertzog. “However, the state still wants an absurd amount of control of the local library.”

In the end, Hertzog could not support a budget which included the requested increase for library funding.

“I submit to you an increase to $5 per capita really does not address the real problem &tstr; it only exacerbates it,” he stated. “The state will withdraw more support as it sees local governments providing more and more of the funding, which is their stated philosophy of how libraries should be funded. Let’s have a frank discussion on the real issue and not put a Band-Aid on the problem.”

Besides the tax issue, there was more good news for borough residents in the form of reduced electric rates as of Jan. 1.

Municipal Enterprises chair Tom Reinhold was thrilled to seek council support for the move which reduces, on average, borough electric rates by 7 percent.

But in so doing, he again stressed that this was an average and not across-the-board. The new pricing structure approved would mean some customers might see perhaps a slight bit more or less of a rate reduction, but on the whole the impact would be about 7 percent. The measure passed unanimously.

And finally, local resident Tina Thompson publicly questioned what many around the community have been wondering: when will the McDonald’s at the Cloister Shopping Center be rebuilt.

“We lost our McDonald’s a while ago,” said Thompson. “I’ve heard the hold up is the borough. I know from driving by, there were zoning notices posted on the sidewalk. I was just wondering when we get our new McDonald’s.”

Borough Manager Bob Thompson assured Mrs. Thompson that the borough was not responsible for any delay. He explained that shopping center management has been in talks with restaurant owners to resolve a number of design issues associated with a complete rebuild of the restaurant, which was destroyed by fire several months ago. He added that there were hopes of seeing an action before the zoning hearing board as soon as January or February.

For additional information on Ephrata Borough, visit ephrataboro.org.

Gary P. Klinger welcomes your feedback and questions via email at klingerglobal@gmail.com or on Twitter at twitter.com/gpklinger.

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