Chambersburg budget increases BUT no changes to tax rates for FY24

06 November 2023- Chambersburg Borough Council heard from borough manager Jeffrey Stonehill on Monday night for their proposed Fiscal Year 2024 and a collective sigh of relief was likely audible for a number of residents; no milage increases for next year’s budget. While the SIZE of the budget was increased, at least in the proposed plan, this does not affect the rates of taxes. Borough officials point to strong economic growth in the borough to give it the boost it needed to keep taxes at their current levels.

Chambersburg, as many know, has the largest budget of any borough in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. The seat of Franklin County beats out comparable and even significantly larger boroughs like Shippensburg, Waynesboro, and even Carlisle locally. That budget also makes it the 12th largest municipality in the state and possibly the most complex. This is due to what is the driver for the high balance sheet: the borough owned gas and electric utilities.

On the note of utilities, while significant efforts were made to keep taxes at current levels, a number of increased costs to consumers were proposed. The well publicized increase of electric rates of 11% would go into effect if the budget is approved in its current form. According to Borough Manager Jeffrey Stonehill, this is still significantly less than other energy providers in the area like West Penn Power, which has seen prices rise 32% since 2022. West Penn has also asked the Pennsylvania PUC for an additional 11% increase for FY24. While electric rates are going up, there was no increase for both wastewater and natural gas rates for consumers. The last time either rates were altered were 2016 and 2013, respectively.

Other increases proposed in Monday’s budget reveal were an increase in costs to the water rates, garbage rates, and ambulance rates. Water rates are set to rise $.03, which would bring the average household bill from $21.35 to $23.45 a month. Garbage costs would increase $3, bringing the average costs from $25 to $28.

One important note from borough officials on the budget is that funding for the Chambersburg Police Department and the professional Fire Department will remain steady. While many may see this as a good thing, both CPD and CFD have been looking for increases to build out their staffs and provide better services.

Chambersburg PD is finally in their not-so-new home back on S Second Street, which saw a multimillion dollar renovation. There was much talk, however, about increasing the size of the force as well as potentially creating a brand new traffic division to handle numerous safety and quality of life issues. That, however, looks to be on hold as Manager Stonehill says the over 50 year old property tax rolls for Franklin County handicap their ability to properly tax and budget for multiple departments. While CPD’s future remains bright, it will have to wait for a bigger footprint.

Chambersburg Fire and EMS Department, however, has to deal with arguably more issues due to archaic rules involving the PA Borough Code. The good news for the department is their budget went up over 8% year over year due to the aforementioned economic drivers. This will open up a position for a new full-time firefighter. What is much more worrying, however, is the $1.7M budget deficit the department is running due to Code problems.

The Borough is restricted to only collect 3 mils of property taxes for the fire and EMS department, which means the department is only funded for an incredibly small portion of their budget. The rest is made up through surpluses in the General Fund so that the whole budget plan is balanced. This, therefore, is a statewide issue that’s only exacerbated by problems with the advanced life support system across the Commonwealth.

For home and property owners, this all means the AVERAGE borough bill for the year would total to just over $600. That, Manager Stonehill says, would be the most average home in the borough.

Another important note that was made is that the cost of redevelopment for the current and former Southgate Mall property DOES NOT have any impact on tax rates for borough residents. This is due to the fact most of the money was spent from a federal grant, which by the nature of it being a grant and not a loan, does not need to be repaid. Additionally, officials say that rent collected by CAMA’s management company more than cover the costs of upkeep for the current facility and improvements for the previously crumbling parking lot and building.

Want to read the whole budget? You can do that starting TUESDAY at three locations in the Borough; the Borough Offices at the intersection of S Second and E Queen, the Coyle Free Library, and the Franklin County Law Library. Additionally, the budget will be able to be accessed digitally at the Borough’s website under the transparency link, which will be made available on Tuesday.

Want to voice your support or disdain for the proposed budget? Council will be again on Monday, November 13th for public comment. After that, Council will return on December 11th to vote on the proposed budget. If not approved that day, they will have until December 31st to finalize and sign off on the next year’s spending.