EMMAUS BOROUGH COUNCIL
The Emmaus Borough Council unanimously voted to pass the first reading of the 2019 budget at the Dec. 3 meeting, which will include a 13 percent tax increase.
The new $16.6 million budget will include a property tax millage rise from 4.874 mills to 5.6654 mills. A mill is a $1 tax on every $1,000 of a property’s assessed value. With this 0.79 mills increase, homeowners with property assessed at the borough’s average of $161,100 will be paying an extra $127 for this year.
The fire fund tax will remain the same at 1.0961 mills. The combined fire fund and general fund taxes come out to a 13 percent tax hike for residents.
The water and sewer rates will remain the same and the refuse increase rate will be finalized at the next council meeting.
The biggest expense increases came from the $212,677 health care benefits for borough employees and $355,000 for salaries with the total coming to $560,000. Borough Manager Shane Pepe said there was no avoiding this contractually.
The borough negotiated four union contracts over two years. This negotiation gave raises of an approximately four percent increase in exchange for employees paying toward their own health care, for the first time. New employees in any department will not receive post-retirement health care which in the long run will save the borough tens of millions of dollars.
Pepe said they “cut the living daylights” out of the budget. “We got to the point where there was no fat left; we were trimming the muscle off.” Some of the decisions came down to if they wanted to keep the same level of services they have provided residents over the years.
Pepe said Emmaus is among only 1 percent of Pennsylvania municipalities that provide the services they do. This includes full public works services, parks, codes enforcement, their own water system, paid police protection, paid fire department and a paid ambulance department.
“The feedback that we’ve always received from our citizens, is that they want to keep those ambulance services, they want to keep those level of police services, and they appreciate and respect the fire service,” Pepe said. “There wasn’t a huge outcry from the public when we went to court and had the labor issues on whether or not they [fire department] should be paid or whether they should be volunteer. I think overall, the public said we gotta do what we gotta do to protect the community.”
Pepe also noted over the last few years they’ve been spending down on their surplus and it was inevitable they would eventually run out of those savings. Some of the projects the surplus money has been used on include stormwater issues, municipal separate storm systems, capital issues, roads projects, new labor in the fire department, legal issues including the lawsuit from JP Mascaro, the 10th Street culvert project and a new roof for the library.
The budget process this year took over 30 hours. Councilman Roy Anders said over the five years he’s been on council, this budget season was the hardest.
“If anybody out there thinks that’s easy, boy, I invite you to sit in this chair,” Pepe said.
The distribution of the budget is as follows: $11,083,078 – general, $1,417,746 – fire, $1,193,080 – water, $2,367,041 – sewer, $823,975 – debt services, $417,337 – capital projects and $590,150 – liquid fuels. The grand total is $17,892,257.
In other business, Councilman Wesley Barrett attended his final meeting as a council member, as he will be moving out of the borough. Barrett ran for a borough council position back in 2004 and has continually served since.