Whitehall-Coplay Press

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Commissioners approve 2019 budget

Wednesday, December 12, 2018 by KATHY LAUER-WILLIAMS Special to The Press in Local News

Township’s real estate tax will remain the same for ninth straight year

Whitehall Township Board of Commissioners unanimously approved a budget for 2019 that includes no real estate tax increase for the ninth year in a row at its meeting Dec. 10.

The board approved a real estate tax rate of 2.8 mills, which has remained the same since 2011. One mill equals $1 per thousand dollars of value.

The township remains in “good financial shape,” Colleen Gober, township treasurer, told the board.

The township’s $24.2 million general fund includes an $8.4 million balance to begin the year, with $20 million in anticipated revenues.

Other taxes also did not increase. The earned income tax remains at 1 percent. The per capita tax will stay at $5 and the garbage fee at $300, despite increases in contract prices.

Council President Dennis Hower praised township staff for avoiding a tax increase.

“Coming in under budget is very hard to do in this day and age,” he said.

Township revenue is up 4.6 percent over last year, due to increases in earned income tax and projected increases in grants, real estate transfer taxes and earned interest.

However, Mayor Michael Harakal Jr. noted a 6.29-percent increase in expenditures far outweighs the growth in revenues and warned “we must not allow our balance sheet to go awry.”

For 2019, the $4.2 million shortfall between revenues and expenditures is covered by the general fund balance.

Harakal said growth is stagnant in real estate taxes, but real estate transfer taxes provided a “windfall” — with the sale of large commercial properties bringing in more than $50,000 of unanticipated revenue.

The township received $250,000 from a recycling grant to purchase recycling carts and anticipates getting grants in 2019 for the two school resource officers who patrol the middle and high schools. The township also saw a windfall of $422,000 in rebates for 2017 health insurance claims.

The largest single increase in costs was in pension contributions for 2019. A $525,000 additional contribution to the police pension was required, but Harakal said he anticipates the amount is a one-time cost.

The township will transfer $1.5 million to the capital reserve fund to finance projects and major equipment purchases. Included in the budget are five new police vehicles and a changeover of portable police radios due to the absorption of Allentown into the 911 center. The fire department will get a part-time fire inspector, a new brush truck and additional equipment for the Jaws of Life rescue tools.

For public works, capital equipment items include the replacement of a 24-year-old front end loader, a 19-year-old dump truck and two new pickup snow plows. Nearly $200,000 in storm sewer budgeting is included, so the township can meet Environmental Protection Agency guidelines in regulating water pollution. The recreation department also needs to replace a pickup truck and replace the roof on both the Lehnert Road barn and the West Catasauqua community building.

Commissioners all praised the work done on the budget.

“We have another year in which everything comes in below budget,” board Vice President Philip Ginder said. “You can’t do any better than that. We are very fortunate in Whitehall Township.”