Emmaus Council passes zoning ordinance amendment amid resident concerns


EMMAUS, Pa. – Emmaus Borough Council preliminarily approved a proposed $18.4 million budget for 2020 that includes a 9.6% property tax increase to 7.41 mills at its Monday meeting.

The budget, which is now approved for public inspection, also includes an annual sewer rate increase of approximately $34 for the average household.

For an Emmaus residential property assessed at an average $161,000, the 0.65 mill real estate tax hike translates to an additional $105 annual outlay for residents. Coupled with the $34 sewer rate rise, the total annual increase amounts to approximately $139 more per year.

"This has been the most difficult budget I've prepared in the last eight years," Borough Manager Shane Pepe said.

He attributes the property tax and sewer rate hikes to various factors, including unexpected sewer rate increases from the Lehigh County Authority that was nearly $75,000. Another factor he cited was the Donald Drive sewer main replacement project that began late last year and included expensive infrastructure repairs of over $387,000.

In addition, Pepe noted charges to the borough for transporting sewage through both the Emmaus and western sewer mains will rise next year by more than $236,000. He said that will account for 10% of the borough's entire sewer budget.

Pepe said the tax increases will total just over $733,500 in additional revenue. He said that only leaves Emmaus with slightly more than $103,000 as a reserve for any unforeseen emergencies.

When asked how the borough would pay for another malfunctioning sewer main, he said a municipal loan would have to be secured once the reserve was exhausted.

Another financial hurdle the borough will have to overcome next year is making a 27th payroll at the end of 2020 at a cost of almost $232,000. The extra payroll is one that occurs only once every 11 years due to the culmination of several cumulative calendar days over multiple years.

Finally, health care and pension costs remained relatively static for 2020, however there was a more than $56,000 increase in workers' compensation costs due to two large claims and the extra payroll next year.

Pepe said the administration, including department heads and borough council, made every effort to cut costs including not replacing all retiring employees.

The budget will be made available for public inspection for the next 10 days and, barring any revisions, is expected to be adopted following its second reading on Dec. 16.