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Oxford Borough unveils preliminary budget for 2015

09/17/2014 06:49PM ● Published by Lev

By Steven Hoffman

Staff Writer

Oxford Borough officials unveiled a preliminary budget for 2015 at a council meeting on Sept. 8.

While a lot of work remains before the spending plan is adopted, there is some good news for taxpayers: Council member Gary Tozzo said that, as of right now at least, the millage rate will remain at 12 mills next year. 

Oxford Borough treasurer Artie Anderson said that the projected 2015 budget currently amounts to approximately $3.6 million. Overall, spending will increase slightly from 2014 to 2015 due to increases in salaries for contracted employees and the impact of inflation on some of the goods and services that the borough relies on. These increases in anticipated expenditures, however, are balanced by a hike in revenues.

Anderson said that revenues are going up one year to the next largely because of the expansion taking place at Ware Presbyterian Village, which is expected to add about $90,000 to the borough's coffers in the next year.

The borough's Finance Committee has been hard at work scrutinizing the budget, going line by line to see where expenditures can be trimmed. Another one of the goals of the current council is to increase the discussion and analysis of the budget before it is approved. There was a lengthy discussion on this night about specific line items.

Public Works supervisor John Schaible expressed concerns about some of the cuts that are currently included in this early version of the budget. For example, this year, the borough budgeted $5,000 for traffic and street signs. So far in 2014, the borough is not on a pace to spend that much so the Finance Committee proposed reducing that line item to $1,500 for next year. Schaible pointed out, however, that in some cases these expenditures vary year to year and just because one particular line item dips for a year, it doesn't mean that the budgeted amount is off target.

At other times, Schaible said, unavoidable expenses arise. For instance, the Public Works Department got hit hard by the winter of 2013-2014. The borough budgeted $5,000 for equipment repairs, but because of the harsh weather the equipment was breaking down and the actual expenditure for repairs was closer to $15,000. The Public Works Department was able to absorb the extra costs by reallocating money from other areas.

Schaible said that the goal is to always keep the total amount spent by the department under what was budgeted.

“Since I took this position, I pride myself on being under budget every year,” he said.

Several council members thanked Schaible for keeping the department under-budget. Several council members spoke about the need to limit taxes.

“As a taxpayer,” Tozzo said, “I don't see the benefits of tax increases. Everyone in the area knows that we have the highest taxes {in southern Chester County}.”

Council member Randy Grace agreed with Tozzo's assessment and said that the borough must find more ways to reduce spending.

“Let's pull the belt in a notch or two,” he said. “We have to stop raising taxes. I don't think we were spending money recklessly. But sometimes we have the money budgeted so we went ahead and spent it.”

Council member Paul Matthews said that he has seen good developments in Oxford, and he doesn't want high taxes to thwart the progress.

 

Other council members, however, said that the borough officials and employees are already doing a lot to limit any extra spending.

Council member John Thompson offered an example, pointing out that borough employees already do maintenance on the vehicles that the borough owns. The vehicles have long lives already, so there's not much else that can be done to save money in that area.

There was also a discussion about spending on the police department. Police Chief John Slauch said that if the budget figures being presented stay the same, the department should be fine working within its parameters. The borough took steps this year to reduce some of the overtime by hiring three additional part-time officers who can help provide shift coverage when needed.

“I don't think we overpay anyone who comes through the door,” said Lombardi.

Commenting on the costs of running a police department, council member Randy Teel said that officers on Oxford's payroll must sometimes respond to calls in the surrounding townships that don't have police departments. Teel suggested sending a bill to the neighboring township when this happens, though he also noted that it was unlikely that the bill would be paid.

Council member Sue Lombardi talked about the importance of the full-time police department. “As a taxpayer, I'm grateful that we have a police force like that,” she said.

Lombardi added that salaries for borough employees are comparatively lower than the equivalent positions in other municipalities.

With just a few months to go before a new budget must be adopted, there was optimism that the budget could be balanced this year without a tax increase. However, the borough doesn't have the exact costs for various insurance policies factored in yet, and increases in those or other unanticipated expenses could make a difference in a tight budget.

Anderson, Oxford's resident budget expert, did express some concerns that if the spending plan remains the same, there won't be any extra money for capital projects or unanticipated expenses.

“My only concern, since we’re not raising taxes, is that we’re not putting money in the capital fund,” Anderson said.

Borough officials will continue to fine-tune the spending plan in the coming months.

“We’re hoping to have a plan in place by the end of October or the first part of November,” Tozzo said.

Residents seek more handicapped parking spots

A small group of residents who live in the Oxford Hotel sought Oxford Borough Council’s assistance with identifying and securing some handicapped parking spots in the vicinity of the hotel for their use.

The group, led by Sam Sylvest, a disabled veteran, told council that the lack of parking nearby places them in danger, especially if they are forced to park across the street and have to cross Third Street to get to their homes.

Oxford officials have long sought additional parking for residents of the Oxford Hotel, but there simply aren't a lot of available spots nearby. As council member Randy Teel observed, “You can't grow parking spaces.”

Borough officials are going to work with residents and the owner of the Oxford Hotel on possible solutions.

 

 

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