Oxford Borough Mayor Geoff Henry has notified borough officials that he has vetoed the 2014 tax ordinance that was unanimously approved by borough council on Dec. 16.
Henry said that he felt obligated to use his veto power as mayor because the millage rate, already the highest in the area, is slated to increase by another half a mill to a total of 12 mills. At the 2013 rate of 11.5 mills, Oxford already exceeds other municipalities in southern Chester County by a significant margin. Parkesburg's millage rate stands at 10 mills, but the next highest millage rate for a borough is Downingtown at 7.65 mills. Kennett Square's millage rate is 5.35 mills.
Henry said that Oxford's millage rate has increased by 166 percent in the last ten years alone, and in his view that's just too much of a burden for Oxford property owners.
“I have decided that I will veto the 2014 tax ordinance. I really have a problem with the way expenses keep going up,” Henry said. “In a time like this, I think government has to exercise some fiscal restraint. I'm convinced that the tax rates are way too high in Oxford.”
Henry said that he went through Oxford's budget and found 30 line items that are increasing. Some increases, such as those for insurance costs or for contracted salaries, are fixed costs, but the mayor believes that other expenditures can be reduced so that taxes don't have to go up by .50 mills.
“I don't know if council could find enough ways to reduce spending so that there wouldn't be a tax increase, but maybe it wouldn't have to increase by half a mill,” Henry explained.
Henry said that he notified borough officials of the veto on Dec. 23. He had 10 days after borough council approved the budget ordinance to sign it, veto it, or not sign it. An ordinance can go into effect even if the mayor doesn't sign it.
Now that Henry has taken the rare step of vetoing a tax ordinance, Oxford Borough Council is expected to hold a special meeting between Christmas and New Year's Day to make the public aware that the ordinance has been vetoed. It's possible that council will attempt to override the veto. It takes a majority of council plus one vote to approve the override.
This tax veto comes at a time of transition for borough council. Three of the seven members who are on council now won't be on council after it reorganizes on Jan. 6. Three new members—Randy Grace, Gary Tozzo, and Paul Matthews—will join the council at that time. All three ran on platforms that espoused holding a line on tax rates.
If the current council overrides Henry's veto between now and the end of the year, the next borough council has the option of reopening the budget and amending it. That could happen up until Feb. 15, 2014.
Henry said that one thing that he would like to see the new council do is to engage in more public discussions about the budget as it is being prepared. Henry has publicly urged council to hold meetings specifically for the budget in the past, but most of the budget work is still handled in committee.
“My hope is that the new council will schedule budget workshop meetings,” Henry said.