2019 spending plan includes two more police officers
Greencastle Borough Council approved a preliminary budget for 2019 that maintains the property tax rate and adds two police officers.
At Thursday's special meeting council members also discussed implementing a yearly storm water pollution impact fee of $160, residential; $500, institutional/worship center; and $1,600, commercial.
The fee, akin to a quarterly water or sewer bill, according to Borough Manager Eden Ratliff, is on the table to pay for MS4 (Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System) water cleanup requirements.
Another special meeting for public input on the storm water fee is planned at 7 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 1, in borough hall.
The borough received its five-year MS4 permit in March 2018 and components include public education and outreach; mapping; calculation of sediments, nitrates and phosphorous; planning and implementation of best management practices; financing; and long-term monitoring. The total estimated cost is more than $1.1 million.
The most expensive requirements involve taking steps to reduce the sediment the borough sends via the Conococheague Creek to the Chesapeake Bay by 10 percent — or 101,797 pounds, as calculated by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection. Reducing sediment also will reduce pollutants.
In 2019, the borough's MS4 project is a bioretention swale designed to reduce sediment from the storm water runoff created by a proposed parking area at Lilian S. Besore Memorial Library.
The borough plans to work with Antrim Township on a joint stream restoration project beginning in 2020, with the associated engineering fees expected in 2019, according to Ratliff.
Antrim Township also is facing MS4 requirements that are conservatively estimated at $500,000 to $600,000 a year. Several options for generating the money have been discussed and the township has contracted with the engineering and consulting firm Dewberry to calculate costs, including a new staff member, and how to set fees.
With 1,974 residential units, 26 churches/institutions and 206 commercial properties, the storm water fee would raise $658,440 a year in Greencastle.
Paying for the work through property taxes can't be done. According to Ratliff, it would take 17.66 mills on top of the current 15-mil property tax rate to bring in enough money and it is illegal for the borough to go above 30 mills, Ratliff said.
Before this Thursday's meeting, Mayor Ben Thomas Jr. also will look into the possibility of borrowing money to pay for the MS4 requirements.
Council President Steve Miller was among those who pointed out that MS4 and Chesapeake Bay cleanup measures are an unfunded federal mandate.
"We would still not meet mandates of we turned the whole 1 square mile borough green and planted it with trees," Miller said, after saying that Greencastle is in its five-year MS4 permit cycle and has to come to grips with it.
"Every single one of us contributes to storm water so it is reasonable each of us share the burden," Ratliff said.
Councilman Duane Kinzer is worried about how the fee will affect churches that may already be struggling financially.
Ratliff noted churches, institutions and commercial property produce the most storm water runoff with their impervious parking areas, while residential properties produce the least.
Kinzer also said the fee could drive businesses out of town.
During the public comment period, Greencastle resident, businessman and former council member Charles Eckstine said it is not fair for a 10-acre shopping center and a quarter-acre tax office to be assessed the same commercial fee.
Miller said square footage could be considered in the future, but the proposed fees are a starting point because "we're out of time to solve this."
Thomas and Ratliff both indicated a goal to review the fee for 2020-21.
Council voted 4-1 to approve the preliminary 2019 budget with revenues of $1,839,230 and expenditures of $1,757,730.44 reflecting the current 15 mill property tax rate. The average property owner pays around $300 a year in borough real estate taxes
Larry Faight, Steve Miller, Matt Smith and Frank Webster voted in favor of the spending plan, Duane Kinzer voted no and Craig Myers was absent. The budget timeline has a final vote at a special meeting on Nov. 29.
In addition to the two full-time officers the 2019 budget also includes money for a fourth patrol vehicle.
Thomas talked about the police budget with information from Chief John Phillippy, who was unable to attend the meeting.
Increasing the department to five full-time officers, plus the chief, will provide adequate staffing, enhance officer and community safety, allow for additional training and enable additional criminal and drug investigations.
In March 1985, the borough had three full-time officers and handled 66 calls. In March 2018, the department had three full-time officers and had 222 calls, including domestics, vehicle accidents, suspicious persons and activities, and warrants served. Often, officers had to handle those tasks alone, according to one slide in the presentation.
Thomas said Greencastle is "a wonderful community, but we see the ills of society."
The budget for part-time officers was increased for 2018, but their first commitment is to their full-time employer, leaving Greencastle with reduced or no coverage.
Miller said he asked Phillippy why he did not have more part-time officers and the response was "I can't get them."
Other significant parts of the 2019 budget include the comprehensive rezoning initiative; Americans with Disabilities Act curbs and sidewalks at various locations; returning employees' multi-person health care premiums from 40 percent, set for 2018, to to the previous 25 percent for 2019; and reconstructing North Carlisle Street from East Walter Avenue to Center Square.