NEWTOWN TOWNSHIP >> After months of debate and compromise, the board of supervisors on Dec. 22 voted 3 to 2 to approve a 2021 $13.8 million budget with a 3.99 mill real estate tax increase.
The increase will mean property owners will be paying on average $160 more per year in local municipal taxes.
The 2021 budget sets the property tax rate at 8.49 mills or about $340 per year on average for township property owners. The budget also relies on an earned income tax to fund township operations.
The budget will boost property taxes to 8.49 mills, including 4.5 mills for the general fund, one mill to the fire tax fund, 1.875 to debt service on the municipal building, .5 mills for the rescue squad and .615 for the fire hydrant tax.
The fund balance at the end of the year is projected to be $1,199,928, which equates to 8.69 percent of total expenditures.
Much of the increase will be spent hiring three new full-time police officers, hiring an assistant township manager, boosting the salaries of its manager and fire chief and road repaving projects.
It also fund a number of capital purchases, including $166,700 for two patrol vehicles, four portable radios, seven ballistic vests and 12 tasers for the police department, $58,000 for a dump truck, utility truck, zero turn mower and a walk behind mower for public works and $34,500 for computer and technology upgrades.
In passing the final spending plan, the supervisors agreed to $166,667 in additional cuts, including the elimination of the hiring of new Director of Zoning & Code Enforcement at an estimated savings of $40,000 plus benefits; reduction of the road program by $50,000; elimination of a new police building study at an estimated savings of $20,000; and the reduction of a new police vehicle at a cost savings of $56,667.
Supervisors David Oxley, Dennis Fisher and John Mack voted in favor of the budget. Chairman Phil Calabro and Kyle Davis voted against the spending plan.
“Since we presented this in October, we’ve come a long way,” said Fisher. “We started at an increase of eight mills for a total of 12 1/2 mills. We brought that down to 10 1/2 mills. And a lot of that was based on public comment. Now we’re down to 4 mills for the increase. We heard from the public and knew we needed to make some cuts. And those cuts helped to get us to a place where I am comfortable with.”
Oxley agreed. “Listening to the residents very much helped us in our deliberations. It is a very tough time but we also love Newtown. We want to preserve Newtown the best that we can and we appreciate the comments from residents. We love Newtown just as much and we want to see it flourish and keep it as pristine as possible.”
Oxley also noted that the budget, with the hiring of an assistant manager, includes a long term strategy on economic development.
In addition to working closely with the township manager, the new hire will focus on economic development and building up the township’s tax base.
“Long term we want to make sure we have good, viable business here and fill in the gap that Lockheed Martin left,” said Oxley. “Long term, our strategy is clear. We are going after different sectors of businesses to be a part of our business commons. It’s important because we have to find the revenues. We need to find different businesses to come to the township and also helping the smaller businesses we already have.”
Mack, who had advocated for additional cuts to the budget and who put out his own survey to residents to gage their opinions, said he was “glad we were able to cut some things I wanted to see.
“Maybe we didn’t cut everything I would like to see, but there are people on this board who have a lot more experience than me and know the consequences of making some cuts and the history of our deficit spending,” said Mack. “I am glad to see the budget keeps the reserve fund at a healthy level. I wish it would be higher. But I think this puts us in a good place.”
Davis said he felt the cuts didn’t go far enough given the current economic climate and the pandemic.
“There are other things I’d like to see cut. The assistant manager’s position, for example. I don’t like the idea of locking in for many years on more township employees who are going to cost continually especially in a year like we’re having this year,” said Davis.
During public comment, resident Ash Kamath encouraged the supervisors to continue “in good faith” its review of the spending plan and finding additional cuts to make.
“Only very minimal cuts have been made on the expenditure side,” he said. “I have no problems with law enforcement and the fire department, but this is a very difficult year. And it’s going to be very difficult next year. A 100 percent increase is not the way to go,” he said.
Fisher attempted to assure residents that just because the board is passing a final budget doesn’t mean there won’t be any flexibility going forward.
“This is a spending plan. If we have to slow down spending money we will,” he said. “We have police officers scheduled to be hired in March and in July. If we have to push those back a bit we will. We actually did that this past year. We pushed a hire back a couple months. If we have to we can adjust the number of roads we’re doing in our road program. We don’t want to, but we can do that. And we will listen to the public as well.”
A copy of the final budget is posted on the township’s website for public review and information.