No tax increase for Muhlenberg residents in 2018

Expect increase in 2019, some commissioners say

MUHLENBERG TWP., Pa. - The Muhlenberg Township commissioners voted Monday night in favor of covering an operating shortfall in the proposed 2018 budget by tapping the municipality’s reserves, rather than by hiking taxes.

The township will draw approximately $180,000 from the township’s unrestricted reserve balance, thus avoiding a .2 mill tax increase.

Commissioner Kevin Lerch – the only no-vote among the five commissioners – said he is trying to avoid a large tax increase in the future, citing the Berks County's proposed 4 percent tax increase. He said he voted for a .1 mill tax increase last year, which was not passed, and this year, the proposed tax increase went up to a .2 mill tax increase.

While the reserves can be tapped, "sooner or later that reserve starts to go down, and then you don't have a reserve, so then you have to look to build up your reserve and at the same time cover the increases in your expenses," Lerch said. "Nobody wants to raise taxes, but we all have to face that sooner or later taxes will have to go up."

Several commissioners who voted against a tax increase cautioned that there is a good chance there will be a tax increase next year.

"You can't keep increasing salaries and supplying what we're supplying to our citizens without some type of increase eventually," Commissioner Steve Wolfinger said. "I'm willing to ride this out for one more year and have three years of no tax increases."

Commissioner Michael Malinowski agreed that taxes might need to increase next year but said he couldn't justify asking residents for additional money when the township has "a substantial amount of money at the end of the year."

Commissioner John Imhoff and Malinowski credited township Manager Jamal Abodalo with bringing in "well over $2 million worth of businesses throughout the township," which increases revenue from real estate and income taxes.

In other business, the board voted two to three in favor of discontinuing any additional exploration of a well at Jim Dietrich Park. Faye Dietrich dedicated the 89-acre tract of land as a memorial to her son, who passed away at age 19, with the stipulation that the land be used only for recreational purposes. Malinowski said he felt that drilling would break the township's agreement with the Dietrich family.

"[Faye] always said that she wanted to honor her son, and that she would never ever do anything else with that park other than a recreation place for people to go," said Glorinne Weiss, Faye Dietrich's sister-in-law.

Several residents at the meeting urged the board to stop the exploration because it would eliminate a dog park currently located on the grounds.

"At no point did the [MTA] mean any disrespect to the Deitrich family. When we started this, the whole purpose was to find the most affordable way to provide water for the township," Douglas Botch, a member of the board of the Muhlenberg Township Authority (MTA), said to Robert and Glorinne Weiss.

The township has been looking for a new source of water because of a concern that, at some point, there may not be enough water for its residents. Botch said the township would continue to look at other options, such as refurbishing existing wells, drilling on other possible sites, and getting water from outside the municipality.

He said Muhlenberg Township has the second lowest water rate in the county, and if it has to get its water from a source outside of the township – such as the Reading Area Water Authority (RAWA) – residents can expect a $40 to $120 per year increase in their water bills.

The board also approved a motion to have legal documents drawn up to merge the Temple and Goodwill fire companies.

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