Kennett Square Borough Council adopts budget for 2016
● By Steven Hoffman
Kennett Square Borough Council adopted a budget for 2016 at its Dec. 7 meeting, but support for the spending plan was far from unanimous as two council members voted against it, and a number of residents also voiced their concerns about increasing expenses even though the 2016 budget does not include a tax increase, and the millage rate will remain at 6.35 mills. There were three-percent increases in sewer and water rates.
The meeting began with comments from the public regarding the budget. Council members went to great lengths to address the issues raised by a handful of residents. The issues ranged from how long borough-owned vehicles are used to the salaries of borough employees to the contributions that the borough makes to non-profit organizations in the community.
Resident John Thomas, a former council member, offered some suggestions on how to reduce expenditures in the budget, including delaying the purchase of new electronic parking meters and a new computer system for the borough. He also suggested that the borough should delay the purchase of a new truck for public works. Thomas also encouraged the borough council to stop moving money from the water fund and sewer fund to support the general fund.
Several other residents offered suggestions about how the borough could curb spending, and several other residents told council that taxes are simply too high.
Robert Whiteside, a borough resident, started his comments by also referencing the budget, but then shifted his comments to borough council president Leon Spencer. Whiteside accused Spencer of being disrespectful to the three previous speakers because he did not look up when they were making their comments.
Spencer banged the gavel on the desk to stop Whiteside from talking and explained that he was looking down because he was making notes on what the residents had said. He held up a piece of paper and showed the audience the notes. Spencer said that he would have Police Chief Edward Zunino escort Whiteside out of the building, but when Zunino went up to Whiteside, cooler heads prevailed.
Whiteside concluded his remarks, focusing more on the proposed budget. When he finished his comments, he told council, “This is my last meeting, guaranteed.”
Spencer, a longtime public servant whose term on council concludes at the end of the month, reiterated that he always listens to residents when they are making public comments.
“I sit in these meetings and I write down what the citizens say,” Spencer said. “How can I serve people if I don’t know what’s on their minds?”
When it came time for borough council members to discus the proposed budget, there was also considerable conversation about an alternate proposal put forward by council member Chip Plumley. This budget would have postponed the purchase of a new administrative software system, reduced the borough’s spending on parks, and also cut funding to nonprofits like the Kennett Public Library.
Council member Dan Maffei said that he didn’t think the alternate budget adequately addressed the town’s needs.
“We’re trying to fix things,” Maffei said, explaining that they have a responsibility to keep the community safe and to continue to meet the needs of residents.
He disagreed with the suggestion that increased spending was making Kennett Square too expensive for taxpayers to live.
“Are we driving folks out of town? I would certainly hope not,” Maffei said. He noted that property values continue to increase, and the demand for housing exceeds the availability. He said that he favored the budget that was proposed by the administration, not the more austere alternate budget.
“Kennett Square is an attractive town for people to live, work, and visit. I think we have a responsible budget here and I intend to vote for it,” Maffei said.
Council member Geoff Bosley agreed with Maffei’s assessments. He explained that Kennett Square has been making progress toward paying off its longterm debt. The borough is also working with its neighboring municipalities to plan for future economic development.
“Obviously, we’re in a little bit of a boom right now in terms of development,” Bosley explained.
Spencer said that he was going to support the budget as it was proposed by the administration because there were spending cuts that he just wasn’t willing to make. Spencer said that he did not want to cut funding to the library because it would jeopardize important offerings like the ESL program that the library runs.
“I am in no way interested in cutting funding to the library,” Spencer said. He also named a number of different activities that Historic Kennett Square runs throughout the year and said, “I am not interested in cutting funds to that organization.”
Some people have advocated generating revenues by charging fees to the Mushroom Festival to offset the costs to the borough during the event, or to tax the Kennett Area YMCA because of the demands that the facility places on the sewer and water system. Spencer said that he wouldn’t support either idea because the Mushroom Festival and the YMCA give generously to the community in a variety of ways. He explained that the Mushroom Festival has donated more than $700,000 to organizations in the community that improve people’s lives. The YMCA has provided about $578,000 in programs and services to 2,377 families in the community. The programs at the YMCA have also helped reduce juvenile crime in the community.
“I think this budget, as painful as it is to the tax bill, is fine where it sits,” Spencer said.
Plumley said that he didn’t think borough council had enough discussion about specific line items leading up to the vote on the budget.
Bosley disagreed, saying that the Finance Committee had worked exhaustively on the budget, and the borough council had also discussed the spending plan at several different meetings.
“We went through almost line by line,” Bosley said. “This is the third time that we’ve discussed it as a group.”
Council member Brett Irwin said that he was also opposing the budget as proposed. He mentioned specifically that he has concerns about transferring funds from the water fund and sewer fund to support spending in the general fund.
When the vote was taken, Spencer, Maffei and Bosley voted for the budget as proposed, while Plumley and Irwin opposed it. The motion carried, 3-2.
With the budget approved, council next approved setting the millage tax rate at 6.35 mills for 2016.
In other business at the meeting:
~ Following a public hearing regarding the borough’s Total Maximum Daily Load Strategy that will keep the borough in compliance with state regulations for keeping streams clean, the borough council approved the strategy. The strategy must be signed off on by the state’s Department of Environmental Protection.
Maffei noted that while these regulations amount to an unfunded mandate because the state doesn’t provide any funding to municipalities to pay for any of the implementation strategies, it is important for municipalities to meet the regulations because it pertains to clean drinking water.
~ In her report about Historic Kennett Square’s activities, Mary Hutchins said that the recent Christmas parade and tree-lighting ceremony attracted a record crowd. Store owners reported a strong start to the holiday season as well, Hutchins said, noting that the shuttle that runs between downtown Kennett Square and Longwood Gardens carried twice as many visitors as the same day last year. The shuttle runs on Saturdays during the holiday season.
The borough council’s next meeting will take place on Jan. 4, 2016. The meeting, which will be highlighted by the arrival of three new council members, Wayne Braffman, Doug Doerfler, and Jamie Mallon, will begin at 7 p.m. in the Kennett Fire Company’s Monroe Nute Room.