No tax hike in borough’s budget, but reassessment will still determine bills

By on December 13, 2017

Countywide real estate reassessments prompted a 29.6 percent millage decrease which keeps the borough revenue neutral, as required by law

Following mandated guidelines, Ephrata Borough Council on Monday adjusted its millage rate in line with the recent countywide real estate reassessments.

Council adopted a 2018 budget — Susan E. Rowe the lone dissenter — which lowers the tax rate to 1.7625, down from the current 2.28 mills.

The 29.6 percent millage decrease keeps the borough revenue neutral as required by law.

Rowe agreed with the millage decrease, despite concerns about keeping healthy fund balances in all accounts. But she objected to how funds were apportioned to a number of the borough’s civic organizations.

At last week’s work session, Rowe noted the slim margins of fund balances. In the event that the borough would have to dip into those fund balances, Rowe said she is worried about what would happen if the funds wouldn’t reach to cover expenses.

This week, Rowe also voiced her concerns about what she believes are the borough’s meager contributions to civic organizations.

The Ephrata Public Library is receiving only a 10 percent increase in contributions for this coming year, Rowe said, and the Ephrata Performing Arts Center is receiving a similar increase.

The library will be receiving $4,000 and EPAC, $5,000.

“The donations should be higher,” Rowe said.

The council also denied the library’s request to waive building permit fees for their upcoming Exploratorium Phase II construction project.

The Farmers Day Association requested, and will receive, $10,000 to go toward the 100th anniversary of next year’s Ephrata Fair.

The historical society will be getting $973.

Both the Lincoln and Pioneer fire companies requested $5,000 toward their truck fund and $1,000 for their operating fund.

Borough will give each fire company $5,000, but denied the extra $1,000.

“I was disappointed that the two fire companies didn’t get their full requests,” Rowe said. “They’re getting an 8.3 percent increase and I thought that was not enough.”

The Shade Tree Commission asked for $4,083 to revitalize plants along Main Street, $16,530 to fill vacant tree slots, and $5,000 to expand the tree canopy through community plantings.

The Shade Tree Commission is getting a 340 percent increase from last year’s funding, Rowe said.

“When your budget is as close as it is to being balanced, I think that was a little excessive,” Rowe said. “But the civic contributions could have been higher and more balanced.”

In another matter, the Council unanimously agreed to opt out of the state’s gaming extension, deciding not to allow a Category 4 casino in the borough.

The Police Pension Contribution Resolution also passed unanimously. All active members of the Police Pension Plan will contribute five percent of gross pay for pension in 2018.

In others matters, Amy MacKenzie, quartermaster for the Cocalico Veterans of Foreign Wars, Post 3376, addressed Council concerning the Ephrata Honors Banner Program.

The post recently retired the first set of veterans’ names and photos, which had been posted along Ephrata’s Main and State streets since 2015.

The banners were given to the families of the honored veterans.

“Some residents were upset that they were taken down, but they were showing some wear and tear and we wanted to return them to the families while still in good condition,” MacKenzie said.

Currently, wintertime banners are in place along the streets.

The next phase of veterans’ banners will be posted on Memorial Day, MacKenzie said.

“Community support for the banners has been tremendous,” MacKenzie said. “We’re now moving into Phase 2, offering 73 other families the opportunity to see their loved ones up there.”

MacKenzie thanked the borough’s public works department for their help in installing the long banners.

“Ephrata has the best banners around and they are seven feet tall,” MacKenzie said.

The VFW post has received calls from other communities to get more information on getting similar banners for their own towns.

“We’re now an example for other communities,” MacKenzie said of the project.

The borough’s Development Activities Committee is currently looking into options for adding more veterans’ banners in the community. One possibility being considered is adding more banners along West Main Street and into Lincoln.

The development committee also noted that one decision came out of the November Zoning Hearing Board, as Pointview Investments LLC was granted a use variance to put a multi-family dwelling at 930 Pointview Ave.

The Special Projects Committee has issued a revised draft “special events ordinance” to the sponsors of recurring events, such as Ephrata Unexpected, Party in the Plaza, Evening Market, Veterans Day, Brewfest Arts, the Ephrata Fair, the Crafts and Restaurant Fair, and Christmas Celebration.

The committee also invited comments from the organizers of the events.

The new ordinance, if approved, will deal with issuing permits, requiring organizers to have insurance, and possibly a security plan.

“It’s still in committee and being looked at,” Rowe said. “The next committee will be in January and hopefully, by that time, they will have a final draft for a vote.”

The Fair Association wanted to know who would be granting the permits, and commented that the events seem too “loosely defined,” so that virtually all events could be classified “special events,” and therefore, need a permit.

The Ephrata Library’s comment asked if a fee will be required for “not-for-profit” organizations who have events as fundraisers.

The written answer from the committee is that permit fees will be charged, based on estimated staff time to process special event requests.

Near the end of the meeting, President Rowe stood to thank Kathleen Holzinger for her 18 years of service to the borough.

Holzinger will be retiring and was employed as executive secretary for the borough, reporting to the borough manager.

Rowe praised Holzinger for her organizational and interpersonal skills and her dedicated service to the borough.

“She is a loyal and valuable team member, integral to the formation of the Ephrata Economic Development Corporation and she will be missed,” Rowe said.

All council members expressed appreciation to Holzinger for the help she has given them through the years.

“There’s nothing harder to replace than a lot of experience,” said Councilman Melvin Weiler.

“Kathleen has been a benefit and an asset to the borough,” said Mayor Ralph Mowen. “She has helped me over the years and really assisted the Authority and made sure things got done on time.”

No replacement has been hired yet; Borough Manager D. Robert Thompson said interviews are currently ongoing.

In another matter, Police Chief William Harvey cautioned motorists to keep on the lookout for emergency vehicles, especially in bad weather.

The Chief was especially concerned because of an accident at the intersection of routes 222 and 322 Saturday evening that involved two parked police cruisers.

The police cruisers had been stopped to allow the officers to help at an accident scene when the cars were struck by a vehicle.

It could have been a serious accident, Harvey said, and the officers came close to being injured.

A good rule of thumb; if you see flashing lights, slow down.

“When you see emergency vehicles, slow down and give them a wide berth,” Harvey said. “This accident came very close and we can repair metal and fiber glass, but we can’t replace lives. Please slow down..

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