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Chester County Press

Kennett Township holding line on real estate taxes for 2021

11/25/2020 10:20AM ● By Richard Gaw

By Richard L. Gaw

Staff Writer

By a 3-0 vote at their Nov. 18 online meeting, the Kennett Township Board of Supervisors adopted the township’s 2021 preliminary budget, one that does not propose a real estate tax increase for residents.

It does, however, propose the introduction of a local services tax at a rate of $52 a year and levied on those residents who are employed in the township.

Presented by township Manager Eden Ratliff and Finance and Human Resources Director Amy Heinrich, the township’s preliminary budget for next year features a projected $6.1 million in revenue, $5.6 million in operating expenses and $500,000 in transfers to capital. It also includes funding for infrastructure improvements in the township; contributions to the regional Fire and EMS Commission; and a contribution to the Kennett Library Capital Campaign.

Next year’s budget will also include $38,000 that will be targeted to local non-profit organizations, many of whom are providing front line support during COVID-19.

The two-hour meeting that laid out the proposed budget for next year was attended by more than 80 residents. It was the most recent in a series of budget hearings the board has held that began on Sept. 16, that have provided residents with a line-by-line glimpse at what next year’s budget will look like from a revenue and expenditures standpoint.

At each of these meetings – including one held on Nov. 11 – the township has heard a familiar refrain from its residents: In a year that has been severely impacted by a deadly virus, now is not the time to increase taxes in Kennett Township.

“After the last public budget hearing many of our citizens urged the supervisors to delay a tax increase as many community members continue to navigate the impacts of COVID-19,” said Vice Chair Whitney Hoffman. “While costs continue to increase along with demands for government services, we pushed and cut as much as we could to balance this budget without an additional burden on the taxpayers.”

Delay on new hirings

In response to public input at earlier budget meetings that advised the township to conserve where it can, its police department will hire one full-time officer by Jan. 1, 2021 – but delay hiring a second officer until May 1. The township will also stand pat on the hiring of a new planner in its planning department until June 1, 2021.

The good news for the township will be that the alleged embezzlement of $3.2 million by former township manager Lisa Moore will not be factored into the 2021 budget. About $1 million of the total has already been recovered and directed back into township’s reserves, as will the remaining money still expected to be recovered.

While the township has decided to increase real estate taxes for 2021, it may not be able to keep that promise in future years. Ratliff said that while a tax freeze is good for the general public in the short term, it presents a challenge to the rapidly changing face of a township that needs to support an expanding police department, fund its continuing mission to purchase additional parcels to be used for open space, and challenge a new-look staff to redefine how it governs -- all under the weight of the current pandemic.

‘Professionalizing the township’ 

“One of the unspoken challenges that our department heads deal with is that the departments we inherited a year ago were not where they needed to be as a second-class township,” he said. “We are professionalizing the township, which is something that we have to do. The reality is that there are improvements that we are required to do, and unfortunately, that is going to cost money.”

In a prepared statement he read at the conclusion of the presentation, supervisor Scudder Stevens compared the work of developing this year’s budget as “making sausage in the governmental budget process,” made even more challenging by funneling it through the current economic downturn.

“We acknowledge that private business has shriveled with declining employment and cost abatements,” he said. “But we know that we can’t. We don’t have an option to treat the township as a business. It isn’t a business and we can’t just stop providing the services that each of us expects and has the right to enjoy. We have an ethical and legal obligation to provide for the health and welfare of our residents. And that is where the tension comes in: What is necessary, and what is not?”

Stevens said that while creating an annual budget provides for the necessary operations of the township and “keeps the lights on for the township,” the process, by virtue of its focus on monetizing these services, does not adequately reflect “what makes Kennett Township unique and special.”

“We have to find a way to cover not only the light and heat of our community, but the quality and character, as well,” he said. “We are more than double lines on the roads, mowed highway shoulders and rights of way. We are more than emergency workers addressing our emergencies. We are kids playing baseball and soccer, fishing and swimming in our waters, parties on the green in the park, and walks in our open space, enjoying the birds and flowers.

“When we talk budgets, we need to embrace the larger picture,” Stevens concluded. “We didn’t last year, and we didn’t this year. We need to do better next year. We need to find a better balance.”

Kennett Township’s 2021 budget is expected to be approved by the supervisors at their Dec. 16 meeting. The preliminary budget is also included on the township’s website.

To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, email [email protected].