Kennett Township OKs tax increase to pay for new emergency services fund
12/12/2017 01:23PM ● Published by Richard Gaw
During Kennett Township's 2018 budget presentation, unveiled and adopted at the Dec. 6 Board of Supervisors meeting, the board voted 3-0 to approve a 1.9 mills property tax increase for township residents to the tune of approximately $930 per household annually, that will be dedicated to a new emergency services fund that is expected to cost $1.5 million a year.
Board chairman Scudder Stevens and supervisors Whitney Hoffman and Dr. Richard Leff all approved the tax increase.
Introduced at the presentation, the fund will be a new addition to the township's 2018 budget categories, which also include a capital fund, general fund, library fund, open space fund, sewer fund and state fund.
The tax will be dedicated entirely to the new fund, and will appear as a line item on residents' tax bills. It will not be co-mingled with other township funds.
The creation of the emergency services fund is an outgrowth of the township's continued financial commitment to the Kennett Township Police Department, and its inclusion in the newly-formed Emergency Services Commission, that consolidates Kennett, Pro-Mar-Lin and Longwood fire companies in an inclusive effort to better serve the six area municipalities they serve. While the projected payment into the commission – and the fire companies – will be $469,958 next year, the bulk of the new fund's expenditures will be seen in the more than $1 million the township has budgeted for its police department, which will include nearly $600,000 in salaries for its full-time officers and its police chief, as well as other operating costs.
“Over the past eight years, the [township's] police department has been funded out of the general fund surplus,” said Township Manager Lisa Moore, who chaired the presentation. “Over the past four years, our police department's [annual] budget has been close to $750,000, [a cost] that we had been paying out of our surplus.
“The supervisors are very committed to protecting the community and in order to that, they need to have an adequate police department. In addition, the township has been funding the fire departments, and each year we fund them for part of their operating costs. We have been paying for them out of [township] reserves.”
Determining the way to fund the new account came partly out of the township looking at its current tax structure for potential income sources, and finding very little. Right now, the township receives $150,000 a year in real estate taxes – about $80 a year from each household in the township. Further, unlike many surrounding municipalities, Moore said that Kennett Township has no emergency services tax, nor a local services tax.
During discussion between the supervisors, board chairman Scudder Stevens spoke about the township's full-fledged commitment to its police department in recent years, which included the hiring of police chief Lydell Nolt and several full- and part-time officers.
“I've had occasion over the past few months to congratulate Chief Nolt and the other officers of the township for the quality of work they have performed up to this point,” he said. “I've had the occasion to talk to other residents, who initially raised questions with me about nine months or a year ago, asking why they need a township police department.
“Shortly thereafter, [one township resident] told me, 'You don't have to talk about it. I understand.' When the burglar alarm went off in his house, the township police were at his house in less than two minutes.”
Nolt spoke about the advantages of a township having its own police force, and warned the supervisors that if they fail to address their public safety obligations to their constituents, the community will suffer because of it. Quality-of-life crimes will drive residents away, he said.
“It doesn't take someone but two minutes to watch the news, either nationally or locally, and realize that public safety is a problem, and you can't ignore the responsibilities that fall on the shoulders of those who support that safety effort,” Nolt said. “It's a necessary thing, and if you fail to acknowledge it, your community's economic health will eventually go away.
“In layman's terms, all of the people who enjoy living here will move somewhere else, because they won't enjoy living here any more. It's the quality of life issues that get dealt with locally that keep people in their communities.”
Nolt stressed the need to provide township residents with a “full-service police agency,” that includes professionally-trained officers; patrol, investigative and narcotic services; as well as developing a sense of community policing that provides opportunities for officers to engage with the people they serve in non-law enforcement activities and programs.
“Anything short of being a full-service agency is doing a disservice to the community,” he said.
Increasing township property taxes to pay for the new fund was just one of four total options presented to the board, which also included slight increases in dedicated fire tax, dedicated police tax and local services tax – but individually, they each fell far short of the $1.5 million needed to fund the new account.
While the question of how the township will accommodate and replenish the anticipated gradual increase in ongoing expenses that will likely be needed in the future, consolidating the township's police, fire, ambulance and EMS under the umbrella of the new fund makes total sense, Stevens said, because it prepares for the anticipated growth of the township and the immediate areas.
"As we reach a new stage in providing both emergency medical services, fire services and police services in this township and this region, it comes with the fact that this area is evolving, and we are all on the cusp of that motion," he said. “What we do in 2019, at some point, we will begin to embrace that challenge, and this time next year, we will really begin making a commitment [to the township's emergency service units].”
In the township's general fund category, revenue is projected to be $3.4 million for next year, a 3.5 percent increase from 2017, while expenditures are projected to be $3.75 million, a 4.8 percent increase from the current year, due mainly to an anticipated rise of 47 percent in the cost needed to repair roads and bridges in the township next year.
Moore said that the township's open space fund is expected to receive a $5 million loan in 2018, in order to allow the township to purchase three township properties, totaling about 230 acres. The loan will be paid off over the next six years from revenues generated from open space tax receipts.
The township's capital find is expected to receive $710,000 in grants in 2018, which will be dedicated to the reconstruction of the historic Chandler Mill Bridge, which the township currently owns. The township expects to spend $137,000 on road improvements and $304,000 on capital projects, which will include improvements to the historic Fussell House.
In other business, in preparation for the township to advertise and ultimately vote on laws governing the future of proposed medical marijuana growing and dispensary facilities in the township, the board approved by a vote of 2-1 to initiate a Medical Marijuana Ordinance that states that a dispensary unite may not operate less than 250 feet from the nearest point on a property line near a residentially-zoned property, or a parcel that contains a school or day care center. Currently, the state requires a 1,000-foot setback for medical marijuana growing facilities, but has no laws governing set back distances for a dispensary.
Stevens and Hoffman voted in favor of the 250-foot setback, while Leff opposed the setback.
The board also approved the township's purchase of a 77-acre parcel that will be used dedicated as open space, in the amount of $1,395,715, contingent upon receiving grant funding for the purchase.
The township and Kennett Square Borough have applied for and are expected to receive a $1 million TASA (Transportation Alternative Set Aside) Grant, which will create active transportation improvements to bicyclist paths and pedestrian walkways in both the township and the borough.
To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, email firstname.lastname@example.org.