LINESVILLE — Borough residents won't see an increase in their property taxes for 2020, but they should expect an increase in their water bills.
Linesville Borough Council approved advertising the three budgets — general, water and liquid fuels — for adoption at the Dec. 10 meeting. The millage rate will remain at 15.2 mills.
Following a more than four-hour meeting this week, council gave tentative approval to a budget of $382,000, which includes 1.6 percentage pay raise for administrative personnel — the office manager and public works director — and a 4 percent pay hike for police Chief Rob Johnston.
Johnston explained he has had only 73 cents a hour increase for several years because of budgetary concerns within his department. His new salary will be $39,520, which is $19 an hour. The proposed budget also increases the other police officer hourly rate from $14 to $15.
The bulk of the budget remains close to this year's with routine expenses. It includes $8,000 to fund a new police cruiser, $3,000 toward a dump truck and $2,000 toward a new pickup when the need arises.
The anticipated $363,532 expenditures leave an excess of $18,468, which council approved putting into a reserve account. This will allow council to build a balance so it no longer needs to borrow money from a Tax Anticipation Note (TAN) every year.
That brought comments from council member Mike Chance, who said that made him "happy" as he doesn't like to pay a bank interest on that money every year. A TAN is a program in which the government may borrow funds at the beginning of the year until tax money starts being received in April. By law, that loan must be repaid by the end of each year.
The majority of Tuesday's meeting involved discussion of the water budget. The first 30 minutes included a telephone conversation with a professional auditor, who council had asked to look at the water account and give his projections about it.
Kevin McGrath, council president, noted the water department fund is down to about $5,000 by August and that is low. The auditor gave projections for the next five years and said at the current water rate, the fund "is going to be in the negative," noting that will happen within the next two years.
He noted his projections were based on prior history and anticipated revenue and gave council several options it could consider to make the fund solvent, which included raising the base rate and/or the rate per 1,000 gallons of water used monthly.
He also noted the water tower is going to need to be painted within seven years at a cost in excess of $70,000.
The water department has 536 customers, of which 38 reside in Pine Township. Council members reviewed several options to consider to raise the needed funds for operating.
Council member Rodney Koivisto arrived late and reviewed some of the budgeted items. He suggested cutting the proposed $10,000 for reserve for the water tower project as well as several other cuts, including some water meters with some automated readings, cutting time McGrath has do to record readings.
Koivisto also proposed increasing Pine Township customers by an additional $5 base fee costs. He noted Pine Township is getting the benefit of services by Public Works Director McGrath without any additional costs. He suggested Pine Township consider "annexation" to pay costs of benefits, including some police coverage. No council members spoke in agreement with him concerning that.
Council members disagreed, noting that option would not raise the needed funds. Council member Michael Chance noted that council could no "longer kick the can down the road" concerning not saving for the water tower painting project. He noted he is against not saving money and then having to borrow money from a bank and pay interest when the time comes for that job to be done.
"We have stretched this out as far as we can," McGrath said regarding the budget and saving funds for the water tower painting project.
Koivisto asked how Linesville's water rates compared with other boroughs. McGrath noted Cochranton's base rate is $32 more a month than Linesville's, and Cambridge Springs is $11 a month higher. Koivisto said he didn't see the need to do something this drastic.
Council member Tom Deighton said he doesn't think an extra $2 a month — one of the proposed options — is a "deal breaker" even for those on a fixed income.
Following more suggestions by Koivisto, Chance made a motion to put in all of the items Koivisto had suggested being taken out and approve the original proposed budget. It was quickly seconded by Deighton. All council members present voted yes except Koivisto who said "no," adding "emphatically." Council members Holly Miller and Kelly Conner were absent.
The next question was what rate option to choose. Koivisto received a phone call and had to leave the meeting.
Following more discussions, the final vote was to increase the base rate by $2 every year for the next five years and also increase the cost per 1,000 gallons of water by 50 cents in 2020 and then 20 cents each year for the remaining four years. It was noted that should revenues be higher than anticipated, council could act to lower the rate.
The proposal to be discussed next month includes making changes in cost of delinquent accounts. Currently it costs residents $15 for McGrath to tag the residence that the water will be shut off for non-payment. It then costs the customer $50 to have it reconnected.
The proposal is to charge $35 to have it turned off and $25 to have it reconnected.
Customers currently may have water turned off for the winter and not pay a base fee, but there is a $25 reconnection fee. This option is mainly for those who are not staying in town all winter. Council agreed to propose that everyone must pay the base fee whether the water is on or off.
The water budget is to be given final approval in December. The liquid fuels budget reflects money received from the state for maintenance of the streets. It is $31,954 for 2020.