Proposed borough 2021 budget under review

CHAMBERSBURG – Borough of Chambersburg Town Council recently held the first of two public hearings on the proposed 2021 budget, which does not include a tax increase.

In 2021, the borough will have an All Funds Budget of $110,720,580—a 2.8% decrease over the 2020 budget, attributed to decreased expenses in the Enterprise Capital Reserve Funds.

The borough’s operating budget is proposed at $88,720,692, an 11.5% decrease over the current year, with the bulk of the decrease attributed to decreased expenses in the Enterprise Capital Reserve Funds.

The general fund budget is proposed at $16,376,676, a 1.8% increase, largely due to police and fire staffing.

In the proposed 2021 budget, in addition to no tax increase, there is a proposed increase in the ready-to-serve Ambulance Fee from $7 per month to $7.50 per month for water service customers.

“This budget reflects two competing realities recognized by Town Council. First, the COVID-19 health crisis has thrown asunder the regular plans, processes, and financial assuredness of our community,” said Borough Manager Jeffrey Stonehill. “While we wait for things to settle back down, Town Council must continue to invest in infrastructure and emergency services. In order to make this continued financial commitment, the proposed budget recommends a significant reduction in cash reserves. However, cash reserves exist just for such a necessity; second, the proposed budget recommends reasonable use of reserves; and, finally, reserves can easily be replenished if 2021 or 2022 function as years that are more typical.”

Stonehill pointed to additional costs attributed to fighting the pandemic along with continued under collection from Medicare/Medicaid customers.

Further, the budget includes a proposed adjustment in the Storm Water Pollution Control Fee from $4 per month to $5 per month for sanitary sewer service customers. Council has delayed the implementation of a new storm sewer Pollution Control Fee calculation methodology until 2022. “While we wait, projects to comply with Federal rules must continue and therefore, this slight increase is unavoidable,” Stonehill explained. “We are against a 2023 deadline to meet storm sewer improvements and we are struggling to meet this mandate.”

With respect to taxes, the budget includes the same basic tax structure as all budgets in the recent past. It maintains the Police Tax, unchanged for a third straight year. It maintains the Fire Tax, unchanged for a third straight year. It maintains the Recreation Bond Tax, unchanged for its fourth year. Finally, it continues the Council-adopted policy proposed in the last budget, to shift emergency medical funding from the now-repealed Ambulance Tax to the newly established Ambulance Fee, begun in 2020. The average single-family homeowner in the Borough would pay $520 per year in taxes.

The budget proposed no other utility fee increases.

The average borough electric and gas customer is projected to save more than $1,000 per year by having borough utilities when compared to other utility providers’ rates.

In 2021, there will be almost no changes to borough utility rates. The Electric Department envisions no change to the retail electric rates in 2021. The Water Department, the Sanitary Sewer Department, and the Gas Department envision no change in rates in 2021. There is no planned Sanitation Department rate increase in 2021.

Under the Borough Code, each borough in Pennsylvania must adopt a balanced budget by Dec. 31 of each calendar year.

According to statistics from the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development, in 2018—the last year with records—Chambersburg had the largest budget among Pennsylvania’s 958 boroughs.

The next public hearing on the plan will be on Monday, Nov. 23, at 7 p.m., at Chambersburg City Hall. The complete budget is on the borough’s website at www.chambersburgpa.gov, click on Transparency.

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