Mechanicsburg Borough Council finalized the borough’s 2018 budget on Tuesday night, enacting a 17-percent increase in the borough’s millage rate for next year and sparking debate between citizens, council members and borough administrators.
The borough’s current millage rate is 3.333 mills, meaning a property assessed at $100,000 in the borough will owe $333 annually in real estate taxes. With the half-mill increase finalized by borough council, the owner of a $100,000 property will pay an additional $50 in real estate taxes in 2018.
Next year’s budget and millage rate were passed by council in separate 5-2 votes. Voting against both proposals were Kyle Miller and Mark Stoner. Before the vote, Miller spoke at length about why he was voting against the budget and tax increase, saying he believed the budget process didn’t involve “enough long-term planning.”
“This budget is a missed opportunity to control spending and not raise taxes,” Miller said, adding that the borough should consider cost-cutting measures such as regionalization of services. “Our police force is too large for Mechanicsburg. Twenty-five percent of our budget (for police) is too much.” He suggested regionalizing departments or initiating taxes for services like street lights as an alternative to raising real estate taxes.
Police Chief Mindy Meyers took issue with Miller’s comment about the police force, echoed by resident Justin Stimpson. “I do not just spend money willy-nilly. I’m a resident of Mechanicsburg and I do not want to pay higher taxes. .... We’re doing our best, the best we can,” Myers said.
“I fully believe that,” council president Rodney Whitcomb said.
Resident Glenda Blair said, “What Mechanicsburg is doing now is a good thing. I want my police department to protect me. I want my fire department to be there when I need them. A half-mill is not the largest tax increase that Mechanicsburg has ever had. I’m more than willing to pay it and some people need to look at it that way.”
Board vice president Jack Winchell said that maybe he agreed with a service tax or regionalization, but countered Miller, “I don’t think our residents realize that we had eight hours of budget hearings. You didn’t say anything then. You’re grandstanding.”
Borough manager Roger Ciercierski acknowledged that the outcome of next year’s budget was a result of “a lack of planning” and a lack of pertinent data, but he said the problem started long before he assumed the position of borough manager in 2016 after serving as the borough’s code enforcement officer.
“We will have a $285,000 expense at the sewer plant after the first of the year because Band-Aids were put on there,” Ciercierski said. “Band-Aids have been put on things for the last seven to eight years. Taxes weren’t raised and departments had to make do. We need (new) data to start planning. Last year we made it through with no tax increase. We could have had a quarter-mill increase last year and a quarter-mill this year, but I was asked to present a budget my first year with no tax increase.
Last month, Ciecierski said next year’s figures show “the cost of doing business in the Borough of Mechanicsburg. The prices of things are going up.” For example, health insurance for borough employees is going up 53 percent, according to Cieceirski.
Although taxes will increase by 17 percent, the borough’s overall revenue and spending will only increase by 4.5 percent. Next year’s budget totals $5.109 million. When borough officials first drafted the $5.109 million preliminary budget, they faced a $500,000 shortfall. Ciecierski said they were able to reduce that by half due to cuts, but he didn’t want to start cutting into the money for capital projects, especially with concerns over the MS4 stormwater requirements.
“This budget is to help us get back on our feet and take a look at things,” Ciecierski said on Tuesday.