How the Numbers Add (and Subtract) Up
Despite the reduction of an expected fund balance transfer from $600,000 to $250,000, Baldwin Borough's preliminary 2013 budget remains at a relatively small surplus after borough leaders have chipped away at expenses over the past month-and-a-half.
And while borough officials continue to agree on minor cuts virtually across the board, one of the main reasons for the budget's above-water status is actually an encouraging growth in local earned income tax (EIT) revenue. As borough Manager John Barrett estimated at a special Baldwin Council meeting on Tuesday night, Baldwin residents are expected to contribute close to $2.3 million for the borough in EIT in 2013, up almost $224,000 from an earlier estimate.
Barrett said that there are two possible reasons for the increase, which is based on EIT numbers counted so far in 2012: Borough residents are earning more, on average, than they did in years past and/or there are less delinquent EIT taxpayers than in years past.
Barrett said that the lowered amount of delinquents might be due to improvements in Pennsylvania's tax-collection process, thanks to Act 32, which requires employers who maintain worksites in the state (or employ individuals who may work from their Pennsylvania homes) to withhold applicable EIT from those employees.
Barrett also admitted on Tuesday to making a clerical error in a previous version of Baldwin's 2013 budget related to the estimated cost of health care for the Baldwin Borough Police Department. That reduced expense (almost $90,000), combined with a multitude of smaller reductions based on need—$500 less budgeted for 2013 for general administration machinery and equipment; $1,000 less for salt storage repairs and maintenance; et al.—also contributes to the overall budget surplus, which stands at $96,924.
Along that line of re-crunching numbers, Barrett informed the Baldwin Council that it can expect to receive more in real estate taxes in 2013 than what was previously thought. Thanks to a legal stipulation that allows for the council to adjust Baldwin's millage rate at 105 percent instead of just 100 percent in accordance with an increase in countywide reassessed value, the borough should get around $4.95 million in real estate taxes next year, up from an original prediction of around $4.9 million.
Barrett's original prediction, he explained, factored in real estate averages from more than one year, which was not necessary.
What to Spend the Taxpayers' Money On?
The Baldwin Council remains divided on whether or not to hire another full-time police officer for the borough as well as whether or not to increase spending on the borough's road program.
Baldwin police Chief Michael Scott has asked for a new hire, saying that his department is currently only able to deploy three total patrol officers at one time in what he calls Baldwin's four police zones—north Baldwin, south Baldwin, the Route 51 corridor and The Residences of South Hills apartments complex.
Barrett has said that the potential new police hire would mean an additional approximately $70,695 per year in borough spending, including things like health insurance for the officer. But Councilman Bob Collet, who has been a supporter of Scott's request, suggested that the possible new hire start working on March 1, rather than Jan. 1, resulting in a reduced 2013 budget hit for the borough of almost $13,000.
Fellow Councilman Michael Stelmasczyk has —or the current budget surplus would have to shrink.
Collet, at the same time, has been asking for an increase in spending on the borough's road program—at least, for 2013, around $150,000 more for endeavors like resurfacing. But, Collet said that it is "slightly more important" to hire a police officer than it is to have a "decent road program."
Mayor Alexander R. Bennett Jr. has supported Scott's desire for another officer, saying that Baldwin is "geographically, a mess" and, "The way it's laid out, three (patrol officers) doesn't work."
Ed Moeller asked his fellow councilmen to come to the borough's next budget meeting with ideas as to how an increased road program and increased police staff could be funded—namely, what other spending would have to be reduced in order for that to be possible.
The borough's next budget meeting will be held on Tuesday, Nov. 13, at 6 p.m. in the council chambers of the borough municipal building along Churchview Avenue. The meeting is open to the public, and should circumstances dictate, it would be moved to the municipal auditorium of the same building.
Public Works Director Mark Stephenson was originally expected to argue for another employee, as well, but Barrett said that he no longer expects Stephenson to do that.
Click here for more Baldwin Borough news.
Sign up for the daily Baldwin-Whitehall newsletter.