By Steven Hoffman
Kennett Square Borough Council reviewed the proposed 2014 budget at a special meeting on Monday night and borough manager Brant Kucera had some good news to offer.
“Financially, we’re doing significantly better than in the past,” Kucera said.
One illustration of the improved financial position is the fact that the borough expects to be able to balance the budget without a tax increase. The millage rate would remain at the 2013 level of 5.35 mills.
Kucera had unveiled the budget a week earlier, but he went into more detail about the spending plan at the Nov. 25 meeting. The borough manager said that the General Fund budget will total $4,529,100.
“This year’s General Fund budget is actually less than last year’s General Fund budget,” said Kucera. “It’s about $40,000 less.”
Part of the reason for the declining General Fund Budget is the fact that the borough has fewer capital improvement projects on the docket for 2014 after a number of significant projects this year. The proposed 2014 budget includes money for streetscape improvements for West Cypress Street, the installation of a closed-loop traffic signal system, water meter replacements, and the construction of the Yeatman well. All of these projects are funded in part by grants or paid for with enterprise fund money.
The borough does not anticipate adding any new staffing positions in the next year, Kucera said. The borough is projecting a 2.5 percent salary increase in uniformed employees and a 2 percent increase in non-uniformed wages. The contract for police officers is still being negotiated, Kucera said, but it is expected to be close enough to the 2.5 percent figure so as not to significantly impact the borough’s overall budget.
Kucera said that the borough has managed to reverse the trend of declining reserves in the General Fund budget. One reason for the decline is that the borough has been retiring some debt and has been careful about taking on any new debt. Eventually, the declining debt service will help the borough's bottom line. Kennett Square will be paying off another bond in 2015, which will save an addition $50,000 per year in debt service payments.
If the budget is approved as is, the millage rate will remain the same for 2014, but there will be inflationary increases of 2 percent for water and sewer fees and 3 percent for solid waste fees.
Kucera said that in addition to the improving General Fund, the borough's other funds are also moving in the right direction.
“We have reserves in all four major funds that we have,” Kucera said, referring to the General Fund, the Sewer Fund, the Water Fund, and the Parking Fund.
Kucera said that the long-term goal is to continue to budget for the normal expenses that arise in the borough and avoid taking on any long-term debt unless it's absolutely necessary. For example, he suggested planning out street overlay projects so that all the streets in the borough would be scheduled for improvements once every twenty years. This would help avoid having streets deteriorate too much before it's their turn to be improved. The borough has been successful in obtaining grants for some of the major projects in the last few years, Kucera noted.
Kennett Square Borough Council is expected to adopt the 2014 budget in December. With no tax increase in the offing and only a few residents in the audience, there were no public comments about the budget at the meeting.
Kucera pointed out at the Nov. 18 meeting that when millage rates are compared, Kennett Square is still right in the middle of the 15 boroughs in Chester County, with seven of those municipalities having higher tax rates and seven having lower rates. Some of the municipalities with lower rates don’t provide utilities, full-time police protection, or some of the public works services that Kennett Square provides.