Bolivar looking to raise taxes
By Jewels Phraner
Published: Wednesday, Nov. 14, 2012, 8:54 p.m.
Bolivar Borough Council seems to have two options for next year's budget: raise taxes or dissolve as a borough.
At a Nov. 2 meetings, council members painted a dismal picture of the borough's financial state.
Last year, council approved a budget that included more than $100,000 in expenses, despite only $58,000 in income.
That eroded the reserve fund, leaving less than $36,000 in cash on hand for next year.
“Sure, you can ‘over budget' next year. If you over budget again, by this time next year, you won't have any money (in reserve). You cannot do what you did this year for another two years,” Solicitor Jeff Miller told officials.
“Every year we do the same thing. We stick our heads in the sand and don't raise taxes,” Miller said. “Well, someone has got to step up to the plate and do what's needed to keep this borough going.”
Council members discussed the idea of generating revenue with street light and fire hydrant fees, instead of raising taxes outright.
“I think residents would look at it more positively if (we charged) for fire hydrants or street lights, instead of raising taxes as a whole,” Councilman Tom Pickup said. “I'm one that doesn't like to raise taxes at all. I'd like to find other ways to survive, but we're kind of limited at this point.”
It costs the borough $7,200 each year for street lights and another $1,330 for fire hydrants.
The borough would need to raise taxes 3.3 mills to cover the cost of the lights, a 33 percent increase. Residents currently pay 10 mills in property taxes.
One mill brings in about $2,200 for the borough.
To save what's left of the reserve this year, council voted to reduce hours for the two police officers to five hours per week for pending cases only until the end of the year. The sole public works employee has also been reduced to five hours per week until Dec. 5 and then will work on an “as-needed basis.”
Employees can exceed the hours if needed but have to provide council with an explanation, such as being stuck in court, according to the motion made by Councilwoman Sue Bartow.
“It's just a temporary layoff until we find the money,” Bartow said. “They usually don't work that much in the winter anyway.”
Miller said taxes in Bolivar have not be raised in at least a decade.
“Do you think your electricity bill has gone up in the last 10 years? Gas has gone up. Minimum wage has doubled in that time,” he said. “Everything you provide, everything you expend has gone up, except for your income.”
Miller said the borough is working on a “skeleton budget” for 2013.
“I don't know how you can cut the budget any more without shutting lights off completely, and we hold these meetings by candlelight,” he said.
Borough council members will hold a budget workshop at 11 a.m. Nov. 17 at the borough building.
Residents are encouraged to attend. “I'd like to hear more from the public,” Pickup said.
If Bolivar were to dissolve, voters in neighboring Fairfield Township and Bolivar would vote about being absorbed by the township, according to state law. Without passing votes in both communities, Bolivar's only option would be to file for bankruptcy.
“They probably wouldn't make it very far in filing bankruptcy without a court making sure the municipality did its due diligence in making sure they did everything they could to avoid bankruptcy including raising taxes and cutting services,” said Courtney Accruti, spokeswoman for the state Association of Boroughs.
In addition, officials discussed the borough-owned Stump Farm off Graveyard Hill Road.
They have received reports that people have been removing timber from the property, which is designated as a recreational area for activities such as hiking and hunting.
Council members plan to post a sign alerting visitors that the use of motorized vehicles and the removal of timber are not permitted on the property, Council President Clark Baird said.
Council members did not discuss any plans for storing borough vehicles after the Dec. 5 expiration of a lease for a garage owned by the Bolivar Volunteer Fire Company.
They previously discussed buying the fire company's former garage, but Pickup said that building would be too expensive to maintain.
Some council members and police officers have challenged the idea of using the borough's Quonset hut because of the possibility of damage to vehicles from condensation buildup.
Jewels Phraner is a reporter for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-850-1218 or email@example.com.
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