Budget talks continue in Kennett Square
● By Steven Hoffman
Kennett Square Borough Council is on track to approve a balanced budget for 2017 that will not require an increase in taxes.
On Monday, Nov. 28, borough council held a special meeting to discuss the proposed budget that had been unveiled three weeks earlier. Borough manager Joe Scalise updated council on the efforts to finalize the budget, reiterating that there is no tax increase and no hike in water, sewer, or solid waste fees. The millage rate would remain at 6.35 mills for the next year.
Scalise offered a look back at some of the major projects completed by the borough in 2016, as well as a look ahead to what's on tap for the next year. He noted that the proposed 2017 budget is very similar to what it was when the spending plan was first discussed publicly on Nov. 7. The projected general fund budget for 2017 totals $4,155,200.
Council members offered some positive comments about a spending plan that maintained or improved the services to borough residents, while not imposing increased taxes or fees.
“I think this is an excellent budget,” said council member Ethan Cramer. “Everybody who worked on this is doing a very good job.”
Council member Geoff Bosley, who serves on the borough's Finance Committee, said that council members are all residents and taxpayers themselves, and they work hard to keep expenses to a minimum. He noted that the last remaining debt for the borough's water fund will be paid off during 2017, which is an illustration of the borough's efforts to be careful with spending.
“We're moving in a positive direction,” Bosley said.
According to Scalise, the proposed budget includes three-percent salary increases for uniformed and non-uniformed employees.
There is a slight increase in spending on public safety overall. The borough will, for the fourth year in a row, provide some funding for a School Resource Officer who works closely with the schools in the borough. Kennett Square officials are in the process of conducting a search for a new police chief following the retirement, earlier this year, of Edward Zunino. Additionally, the police department added a new position of sergeant during 2016.
The 2017 budget also includes a three-percent increase in the contribution to the Kennett Library.
Looking ahead to some of the projects slated for 2017, the borough will be moving forward with the regional streetlight program that replaces older streetlights with new, energy efficient LED lights. The savings that the borough sees from the upgrades should offset the costs. A new pump station is also needed for Cypress Street, which is budgeted at $115,000. A Linden Street booster station upgrade is expected to cost $440,000. The borough has been working collaboratively with Kennett Township on an economic development study that was completed over the last 16 months. The borough has also been having discussions with Kennett Library officials about a project that would see the library and the borough's offices housed in the same community building.
The most expensive project that could potentially be considered during 2017 is a $3.2 million expansion of the parking garage. The borough has applied for a $1.6 million grant from the state that would pay for a significant portion of the costs of the parking expansion, but until the borough attains the grant officials won't be considering moving forward with the project. As it stands now, there will be no new debt taken on in 2017.
During the discussion about the parking garage project, council president Dan Maffei said that projections show that, if the borough expanded the parking garage, it would operate in the black almost immediately. An expansion of the garage would free up some parking spaces in other parts of the borough that currently are utilized for permit parking so that they can become metered parking spots that would generate additional revenues.
According to Scalise, the borough saw significant savings on several items in the budget during 2016. One example is that the borough put on hold an expenditure of $300,000 for land in the southwest side of town that would have been used for a park. The borough also saved a significant amount on the purchase of new computer software.
Council member Wayne Braffman, who also serves on the borough's Finance Committee, said that borough officials have decided to take a look at the performance of individual funds, specifically the water, sewer, and parking funds, to ensure that each one is on strong ground financially now and in the future. Borough officials will also be looking at the larger contracts that Kennett Square has with various vendors to see if there are any opportunities for potential savings.
Borough council is expected to approve the final budget for 2017 at its next meeting on Monday, Dec. 5.