Tax increase proposed for Kennett Township in 202310/11/2022 03:38PM ● By Richard Gaw
By Richard L. Gaw
The Kennett Township Board of Supervisors spent a large chunk of their Oct. 5 meeting combing through its first look at the township’s proposed 2023 budget, one that includes a projected half mil tax increase that will raise $405,000 in revenue and help cover the cost increases to the township’s police, fire and EMS services and compensate for inflation and large capital projects.
Introduced by Finance and Human Resources Director Amy Heinrich, the 65-page budget report proposes a real estate tax increase of $123 for the average household, one that would raise the yearly average rate to $740 in 2023.
Heinrich spelled out the township’s proposed 24 percent hike in its police department in 2023, which is on point to increase its operating budget to $2.46 million next year. The department’s budget accounts for a nine percent salary increase for officers to offset a new five percent contribution to pension, healthcare; reductions in vacation allotment; and reductions in payouts for unused vacation. In addition, the new budget will reflect a 12 to 16 percent increase in pay for five officers; overtime pay in order to provide two patrol officers on duty at all times; a 20 percent projected increase in fuel for police vehicles; $7,500 that will be dedicated to provide for more community events; and the purchase of four to five new computers that will allow each officer to have his or her own cubicle workspace.
Heinrich also discussed a likely 30 percent increase in the cost of fire and EMS services in the township for next year, a hike that would raise the budget from $746,000 in 2022 to $970,000 in 2023. The proposed increase will ultimately be determined by the Fire & EMS Commission that encompasses a membership of several local municipalities that includes the township.
‘There is a price to pay’
Each of the supervisors weighed in on the proposed tax increase.
“We are working diligently to avoid a tax increase, and if there is a tax increase to keep it as small as humanly possible,” said supervisor Scudder Stevens. “This proposed draft seems to do that. We have spent a great deal of time looking at it and second-guessing with the staff to keep it under control.”
“I think this budget accomplishes what we value as a community in terms of aspects that we have all talked about before, said Chairman Richard Leff. “If we find ways to do things better, then I think we’re open to making those changes as the year goes on, but for now, I think this [budget] gives us a chance to maintain a high quality of services that our residents expect.”
“Insofar as the police are concerned, we have little choice but to comply with the pension and other obligations that are imposed by law,” said supervisor Geoff Gamble. “Some residents asked me during my campaign last year why we have to have a police department at all. My answer to them is two fold. One is that we have an outstanding police force and I believe it is in the best interests of the township that it be maintained at present levels. Secondly, I am advised that it is indeed possible to get rid of it, but the legally-imposed separation obligations would cost upwards of $9 million.”
“If we want an adequate level of public safety, if we want an adequate level of fire protection and emergency medical attention for ourselves and our families and if we want our roads plowed and our streets properly maintained, there is a price to pay.”
Gamble also said that the Fire and EMS Commission should take a more active role in how member municipalities are charged for having fire and EMS service.
Projected revenues and expenses
On the township’s revenue portion of its financial ledger, its general fund is proposed at $6.3 million, which will include $3.1 million in fees, fines, grants and interest for a total of $9.43 million. The balance does not take into account additional grants and the township’s recovery of the funds that were stolen during former township manager Lisa Moore’s $3.2 million embezzlement.
On the expense side, the township is projecting $6.85 million in expenditures – a nine percent increase from $6.34 million in 2022 – with $4.1 million targeted for salaries and benefits, an 11 percent projected increase.
“We have gone through every department and every fund, and there are some very large drivers that are the biggest piece [of the budget] – police, fire and EMS, other inflationary aspects just like every other township [is experiencing], and large capital projects,” Heinrich said. “We have already made reductions and already gone through each budget, had conversations with department heads and have both honored budget requests and turned down budget requests.”
The township’s expense budget for its capital projects in 2023 stands at $4.4 million that includes $258,000 for road paving and resurfacing. The largest proposed capital project expenditure next year will be the $3.81 million the township is devoting to the construction of the Chandler Mill Trail, which will include an additional $1.96 million that is projected to be spent in 2024.
The township is pushing off the start of several capital projects that have been at or near the front burner of discussion in recent years. It is delaying the start of the Five Points intersection until 2027, which is projected to cost a total of $2.7 million. It will also place the construction of the Magnolia Underpass and the realignment of Ways Lane on hold until 2025.
The board defended the township’s decision to prioritize the Chandler Mill Trail project against the backdrop of a projected tax increase, and over safety-improvement projects like the Five Points intersection. Leff said that the township is addressing the construction of the trail in order to comply with a $1.7 million grant it received that is required to be applied to costs before June of 2023.
“We have been working on this project in one state or another longer than I have been on the board,” said Stevens, who has served as a supervisor for the past 12 years. “We have continued to invest in what the community has told us to invest in, and by and large, there has been unanimous commitment and in the end, it will be successful. There has been this continuous investment in time and energy and now, money.
“There are things that have to occur and we are not under the same gun with Five Points that we are when it comes to the aspects of the trail, and so we have to fit it all together, but be fitted together so that it works.”
The township will continue its discussion on next year’s budget at its Oct. 19 meeting, when it will hear all public feedback, identify priorities, reach decisions and finalize its real estate tax millage rate. The township is expected to sign off on final budget approval at its Nov. 19 meeting.
Kennett Township’s proposed 2023 budget is available on the township’s website, www.kennett.pa.us. (See “Agendas and Minutes,” Oct. 5, 2022 meeting agenda, “2023 budget presentation.”)
To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, email [email protected].