Today, November 30, 2010 at 6:00 pm, Pottstown Borough Council and borough staff discussed the proposed 2011 borough budget.
I must commend Jason, Janice, Councilor Weand, the Finance Committee and our borough staff for the effort they put into finding ways to cut costs and maintain services. I do not think it is possible to ask Jason a question he can not answer. Janice Lee has more than earned her salary by walking into the abyss aka borough finances and taking the bull by the horns! So much has been accomplished to get our financial house in order. As I said in an earlier post, accounting is boring to write about however, the changes implemented by Jason, Janice and Finance will pay huge dividends down the road. We now have a clearer financial picture than ever before. Frankly, things are not all that bleak now that Generally Accepted Accounting Principals have been returned to borough hall.
Council asked some tough questions of Jason, Janice and the department heads. I was impressed with how well the questions were answered and the manner with which our borough staff handled themselves.
The bottom line is that council unanimously approved the 2011 budget with a 3.1% tax increase. The increase equates to $25.66 per year on a home assessed at $85,000. We have a $177,000 deficit that unfortunately makes this necessary. The increase can go down if more spending cuts are found or unexpected revenue comes in before the end of the year. However, the increase can not go any higher than 3.1%. The projected property tax collection rate is 92% for 2010.
Getting to a zero tax increase would mean selling a park, laying off Parks and Recreation staff, cutting programs or messing with the paid driver’s health benefits in the Fire Department. Our parks are a big plus for existing borough residents and attracting new residents. We can barely maintain our parks system with the staff we have and cutting programs affects the quality of life for our residents. Fire Department drivers can not afford to pay their health benefits at their current salary levels. It is not their fault costs are skyrocketing.
The assessed value of all Pottstown real estate came in a million dollars higher than projected which also helped the process. The rate of decline in assessed property value seems to be leveling off and council is hopeful that this trend may reverse itself as some development projects in the pipeline are completed. Unfortunately, the assessed property value of Pottstown still declined $1.9 million dollars from last year. This brings in less tax revenue.
PCTV has agreed to reduce their management fee to $331,000. The borough can ill afford to absorb their $147,000 revenue shortfall so going forward they need to break even. PCTV has lost revenue because of the recession and now when FIOS comes to Pottstown, Verizon will not allow PCTV to be a for-profit community access channel. PCTV could potentially lose 25% of their viewers as residents switch from Comcast to Verizon. Council will be scrutinizing PCTV very closely in 2011. PCTV is trying to get grant money, however, until such time as a grant is received, they will still continue to struggle.