No tax increase needed for Quakertown in 2014

Published: 5:45 PM EST Dec 24, 2013   Updated: 1:02 PM EST Nov 26, 2013
Quakertown school board

It appears residents of Quakertown, Bucks Co., will face no tax increase in 2014, even though borough officials plan to spend $3 million more than they will take in.

Utility rates also will not increase. In fact, residents probably will pay at least $2 a month less in their borough utility bills for water, sewage and electricity next year.

“At a minimum, you’re going to get a $24 reduction in your annual cost to the borough,” predicted council vice president Donald Rosenberger.

Borough council intends to adopt a $28.5-million budget for 2104 during its next meeting at 7:30 p.m. Dec. 4.

“We’re projecting a deficit of about $3 million,” explained Rosenberger at council’s Monday night workshop meeting. “Our projected revenues are not quite $26 million.”

Rather than raising taxes, the borough will make up the difference by dipping into its cash reserves. It has about $10 million in reserves, explained Rosenberger.

Noting past deficits turned out to be lower than projected, Rosenberger said: “I wouldn’t be surprised if that $3 million deficit ends up being less.”

None of Rosenberger’s six colleagues on council expressed any opposition to the proposed budget.

Council president James Roberts Jr. later said borough real estate taxes have not increased since 1968. He said the borough’s utilities generate sufficient revenue to avoid tax increases. “The profit that comes from them we can put right back into the town.”

Borough manager Scott McElree said the average real estate tax for Quakertown residents was $31 last year.

Rosenberger said borough officials anticipate ending 2013 with a
$50,000 surplus, which will become part of the borough’s $10 million financial cushion “as we enter 2014.”

He said Quakertown is very fortunate to have that cushion, adding many municipalities have much less money in their tills.

He said most of the extra $3 million is needed to pay for capital improvements, including new vehicles and equipment that do not have to be purchased every year.

He said the borough has been very prudent about expenses for the last four or five years, but in 2014 it’s time to make some significant infrastructure improvements “that will provide long-term benefits to borough residents and businesses. We’re also committed to continuing our work on the economic development and revitalization of the entire borough, including the downtown.”

Some 2014 expenditures

Rosenberger reviewed a long list of expenditures planned for 2014, including the following:

The borough plans to replace all electric meters in homes and businesses, with a new system that will allow remote readings and enable residents to track their own usage. It also plans to begin a four-year program to replace all water and sewer meters.

It also plans to remove the old parking meters that are at every space and replace them with strategically located parking kiosks similar to those in Doylestown or New Hope. The new system no longer will offer
15 free minutes of parking.

It will at least study the possibility of adding a splash pad feature, which shoots water into the air, at its swimming pool.

About $100,000 worth of surveillance equipment will be installed around the borough park to reduce vandalism.

About $8,000 will be spent on improvements at the borough’s skate park.

The borough’s Kids Camp will be expanded from six to seven weeks. That camp again will be free for children who are Quakertown residents, but a $50 weekly fee is being proposed for non-residents. Rosenberger said that is an increase, but non-residents will only pay for weeks their children attend, rather than having to pay the entire seven weeks if they plan a vacation during that time.

Borough Hall will get an elevator, a new heating and air conditioning system, landscaping and security features.

The borough police department will get a separate secure entrance to take suspects into police headquarters for processing. Police also will get two new cruiser cars and a special operations vehicle. A second person in the 18-member police force will be promoted to detective, so the department has two detectives. The department also will get a part-time, non-uniformed employee to work weekends and evenings.

A new street sweeper will be purchased, because the one Quakertown now owns “is probably on its last legs; only one side of it works.”

The LED street light replacement program, which began this year, will continue.

A water line will be replaced on Main Street between 9th and Mill streets, a $350,000 project.

More cement planters will be installed downtown.

Decrease in utility bills

Assuming approval by council, Rosenberger said in 2014 utility customers will see a decrease in the debt service fee, a line on their monthly utility bills.

He said that fee is based on the amount of water used.

“The lowest amount a customer could pay will be $16 a month and it ranges up to $200 a month for some very large industry users,” he explained. “We’re going to be reducing it by around 12.5 percent.”

He said those now paying $16 will pay only $14, those paying $24 will pay about $21 and businesses paying $200 will pay about $175.

Rosenberger said that proposed fee reduction will be acted on by council in January.

He said the borough can reduce the debt service fee because “we’ve been diligently paying down our debt.”

New service fee on utility bill payments

Unrelated to the budget is a new monthly $2.50 service fee for utility customers who pay their borough utility bills electronically with “e-check” bank transfers or credit cards.

“They can avoid that fee by signing up for their electronic transfers to be automatically charged to their card or deducted from their bank account each month,” explained Rosenberger

He said the $2.50 also will not be charged to people who pay with cash or paper checks.

He estimated about 20 percent of utility customers pay electronically.

Council will act on approving that fee at its meeting next week.

“This is not an optional fee,” said McElree. “This is required from the credit card companies. It’s not something we’re imposing or asking council to impose.”

Other business

Also during the meeting, it was announced that the annual Christmas tree lighting program will be 5-8:30 p.m. Dec. 6 in downtown Quakertown. Council member Michael Johnson said the program has grown dramatically over the years, drawing about 2,500 people last year.

Resident Neal Koch, who lives along S. 9th Street, objected to plans for the borough to permanently approve a four-way stop signs at 9th and Main streets.

Temporary signs have been there for about two months and, so far, the majority of feedback from residents has been favorable, said borough officials. “We’re definitely thinking of making a permanent four-way stop sign at that location,” said Johnson.

Koch said he’s lived in that neighborhood for 32 years and is not aware of any accidents with major injuries at that intersection. He indicated 9th and Park Avenue is a more dangerous intersection with more accidents.