One way or another, Emmaus residents are going to be paying about $10 more a year to live in the borough in 2012.
But, it’s still a little bit up in the air after Monday’s meeting as to whether that additional charge will come in the form of an increase on residents’ water bills or in the form of an approximately .25 mil tax increase.
That’s because the six members of council in attendance last night split down the middle about whether the $63,000 needed to balance the budget should come in the form of a tax increase or a $10 yearly water bill increase. Emmaus Mayor Winfield Iobst cast the tie-breaking vote in favor of a water bill increase.
“I prefer the water, our water is cheap,” he said.
But, on Councilman Brent Labenberg’s suggestion, Borough Manager Craig Neely will prepare two versions of the preliminary budget for council’s next meeting – one that balances the budget with an increase in water rates, the other that zeroes things out with a tax increase.
That will give Councilman Nathan Brown, who was absent last night, the chance to consider both approaches when council votes on the preliminary budget at its .
Council members Mike Waddell, Labenberg and Lee Ann Gilbert voted to balance the budget with a tax increase.
Waddell advocates keeping the level of borough services the same in the coming year and said the residents he has spoken with about the tough budget decisions in front of council all would happily pay a $10 yearly increase to maintain the level of service the borough provides.
“I would like to see us just increase the millage and be straight up about it,” Waddell said. “I would like us to be honest about it.”
Budget and Finance Committee Chair Brian Hotzhafer, and council members Wesley Barrett and R. Erik Reinhard voted in favor of balancing the budget with a water rate increase.
Holtzhafer said: “We knew we had a $63,000 hole and we thought it better to increase the cost of water because the person is paying for a service.”
Both Reinhard and Labenberg cautioned council that balancing this year’s budget is not solving the borough’s financial challenges, merely pushing them out into the future.
Labenberg is particularly concerned with the lack of funding for capital improvement projects.
“I don’t think anyone has a problem with $10 per year to keep the level of service in the borough,” he said. “But, $10 next year is to maintain the minimum. This is going to come down to layoffs down the road. We can’t keep going without projects.”