EMMAUS BOROUGH COUNCIL
Emmaus Borough Council voted 7-0 in favor of a first reading to raise taxes for the fiscal year of 2018.
The proposed ordinance will raise taxes by 5.9715 mills, which is an increase of last year’s 5.5065 mills. A mill is a $1 tax on every $1,000 of a property’s assessed value. The 5.9715 mills will be split between a general tax fund of 4.8754 and a fire fund tax of 1.0961.
Borough Manager Shane Pepe said the average tax bill will increase by 8.44 percent. The average household valued at $163,000 will see a $75.84 tax increase for the year. Pepe said this tax increase is not coming from the borough not having money in the budget or council wanting to do it, but solely with covering the wages of the fire department.
“A PA supreme court case has ruled against the borough, stating that our firefighters are indeed employees,” Pepe said. “We have two choices here: choice number one is shut it down and have no fire department at all and choice number two is recognize the fact that they’re employees.”
“This isn’t a political stance by any means,” Pepe said. “We had warned you [council] before, that if this had gone through we would be seeing somewhere around a $200 per household tax increase, and if they get what they want, it will actually be around the $200 a year tax increase.”
Councilman Nathan Brown said he would not be supporting the budget because of the fire tax. He said he was “disappointed in the Emmaus Union Fire Department,” because they were asking for more money when “over my tenure has received $500,000 to $600,000.”
Brown went on to say he doesn’t mind supporting the first responders and giving them the tools they need, “but at what cost.”
“What I’m saying is I believe there is more than enough money in our current budget to support a fire department, and I want the residents to know as well, that this is just the start of a snowball that will just continue to get larger.”
Pepe told Brown that while he respects his opinion and he has the right to voice it, he stated council was just as much to blame.
“We should be just as disappointed in ourselves as we should be with them,” Pepe said. “The disappointment shouldn’t be within the firefighters, it shouldn’t be with the union. The bottom line is, we lost the court case for mistakes that were made 20 years ago, and they should have been fixed 20 years ago, they should have been fixed 10 years ago, and we tried to fix them five years ago.”
Pepe said it’s on the leadership of the borough as much as it is the firefighters.
Councilman Wesley Barrett reiterated the fact this is “in no way an attack on firefighters or any of the emergency services. You have to be able to have an honest dialogue about this.”
He noted even if they cut other things from the budget it still wouldn’t cover it.
Council President Brent Labenberg said council is budgeting for next year blindly. They will be starting contract negotiations from scratch without knowing what is going to happen. “No one is happy about it, but we have to move on,” he said.
Labenberg also asked Brown to reconsider his vote, as council has worked countless hours on the budget and there is “every reason why we need to budget for that [fire tax].”
After a very lengthy discussion, council, including Brown, voted 7-0 in favor of passing the first reading of the increased tax ordinance.
In related business, council passed a temporary agreement with the International Firefighters Association Local 5004.
“Now that the fire department has employees per the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, we have to come in compliance with the Federal Fair Labor Standard Act,” Pepe said.
Pepe said the firefighters have to now be paid 100 percent of the time they are working, so they have agreed on a temporary pay. Starting Jan. 1, 2018, each employee will receive minimum wage for every hour of work until the contract is reached with whatever wage is agreed upon.
In other business, the borough’s refuse hauler Mascaro & Sons had its Director of Sales Sam Augustine and manager Chris Caras at the meeting to discuss the multitude of problems and complaints they have been receiving from residents regarding refuse pick-up.
Issues include the trucks coming later then the contracted 2 p.m. which is causing problems with student drop offs at the elementary schools, missing entire streets, not putting trash cans and recycling bins back on the sidewalk properly and dropping debris from the trucks.
Augustine said while the company has been complying with the contract standards for over a year, there have been issues that have come up this past spring and in November which are “unacceptable.”
“There’s no reason for it, and it needs to be rectified,” Augustine said.
While council members appreciated Augustine recognizing the problem, they inquired what would be done to rectify the situation. Barrett said the problems seem like they are “perpetually getting worse, and we’ve been getting louder and louder with our concerns, but I don’t think we’ve really seen any adjustment.”
Augustine said while he wasn’t at the meeting to make excuses, there is a shortage on the number of drivers. He said that in turn points to management to not only work on bringing more drivers in, but also training them in the right policies and procedures. Augustine also said they need to do better with covering routes if a truck is broken down or behind schedule, as they do have back-up trucks.
Council told Augustine Mascaro & Sons has until Jan. 1, 2018 to fix the problems raised, or the company will start being fined as per the contract. Augustine said he would like to have a further discussion with council at the next health and sanitation committee meeting regarding how to make better improvements and possibly extend the Jan. 1, 2018 deadline.
Councilwoman Lee Ann Gilbert and Brown sent in their letters of resignation from borough council, both effective Jan. 1, 2018.
Gilbert will become the new mayor of Emmaus borough, while Brown will be moving on to be the Lehigh County Commissioner in District 5. These resignations come in the middle of their 4-year terms, so the newly elected officials filling their positions will each have a 2-year term. Council has started the process of trying to find replacements.
The 2018 budget is $16,598,255 with distribution as follows: $11,693,822 – general, $1,172,023 – fire, $1,204,520 – water, $1,894,740 – sewer, $770,417 – debt services, $1,285,423 – capital projects and $633,150 – liquid fuels.
Some notable amounts were the uses of the $1,323,804 grant money with $500,000 of the grant money for the new library addition, $167,598 for rescue equipment, $238,777 for the Tenth Street culvert grant and $260,000 for the manhole inflow and infiltration grant.
Road work projects have $668,000 of the budget with $83,000 toward police vehicles and $48,000 on a track camera allowing the borough to get into the water, sewer and storm sewer lines to help direct repairs.