By John Chambless
Franklin Township's 2014 budget was passed last week, and taxpayers will be pleased to see that it includes a 10 percent reduction in property taxes for the coming year. That will amount to about $50 in savings for the average household in the township.
That savings comes at a price, though, that has split the board of supervisors. Board members Paul Overton and Nan Latimer voted against the budget, largely created by board president John Auerbach. Overton, whose last meeting as a supervisor was on Dec. 18, wrote to the Chester County Press to explain his objections.
The property tax is divided into four parts in Franklin Township, he said, including the general fund, emergency services, parks and recreation, and open space. "The latter three have a fixed expense," he wrote. "For example, our emergency services tax is a direct pass-through paid to the local fire and ambulance companies. So a reduction of 10 percent of the emergency services tax would not be possible. The park tax is dedicated to pay the loan used to buy Crossan Park. The open space tax is dedicated to paying the open space loan, so there's no room to reduce there, either. The result is a 10 percent cut in property tax must come from the general fund tax, a cut of 16 percent for that fund."
Total tax on property value went from 3.083 to 2.775 mills. The Earned Income Tax of half a percent did not change.
Overton questioned how Auerbach's cuts to "discretionary spending categories" will play out.
"He eliminated all spending for maintenance of our four preserves," Overton wrote. "No mowing the grass around the parking lot and entrance sign. No trail maintenance, no maintenance of the 3,000 trees we planted.
"Other accounts I don't consider discretionary are the zoning officer, the township attorney and maintenance of the grounds around the township building. In other words, the zoning officer responds to requests for building permits. We don't decide the number of permits, the residents request them. So reducing the budget for this account is just wishful thinking without a real plan to reduce the demand for the zoning officer's services. When pressed for an answer in last month's meeting, John said he will manage to reduce these items by 'being creative.'"
Further depleting the funds for Franklin Township parks was the shifting of $125,000 in income from cell phone towers from the parks budget to the general fund. Overton warned that the real estate tax cut will have repurcussions in 18 months, "when our cash balance is depleted and the next board will need to raise taxes."
The 2014 budget lists $2.9 million in expenditures, $3.1 million in income, and a cash balance of $293,517.50.
The full budget can be seen online at www.franklintownship.us.