After cancellations of previous meetings, the Borough of Palmyra met virtually April 20 to introduce a budget that calls for an increase to taxes.
Palmyra’s council and Mayor Gina Tait held the meeting via a Zoom video conference, in keeping with COVID-19 social distancing. Among issues discussed was a request to council by Borough Administrator John Gural to raise the local tax rate from $1.243 to $1.295.
The request contains an increase of 0.0523 per every $100 of assessed home value. A taxpayer with an average assessed home value of $147,783.00 would see an estimated annual increase of $79.89.
“COVID-19 has severely impacted every level of government, and just like in the business sector, the hardest hit area is the revenue projections,” Gural explained. “Which is money you take in.”
Departments across the board had already cut expenses by 2 percent to balance the budget, but since the closure of businesses, schools, borough hall and other non-essential operations, Palmyra is projected to lose an estimated $157,000 in revenue compared with last year.
“This pandemic has affected every one of our residents differently, one way or another; from being quarantined or out of work, issues with food insecurity, or even being sick or losing a loved one,” Tait explained in a statement to The Sun.
“COVID-19 has taken its toll on all towns as well with the ability to adopt a budget that won’t hurt our residents but still ensures the services they receive and need.”
Gural has estimated the borough will only be able to collect 96.5 percent of taxes because residents are experiencing either job losses or reduction in pay. He explained as the tax collection rate sits at 96.5 percent, the borough is obligated to pay out Palmyra School District and Burlington County’s portion of the tax bill in full.
“We collect taxes for all of these entities, and if we only collect 96.5 percent, the bad news for municipalities is we still owe the school district and the county payment in full,” the administrator noted. “They get all of their money whether we’re able to collect it or not.”
As a result, the state has mandated the borough raise taxes an additional $682,025.45 on top of the calculated tax levy for reserve of uncollected taxes. Gural and the borough’s finance team projected the district would raise the tax levy by $10.9 million; for the county, by $2.4 million. The borough’s tax levy is projected to be $6,174,697.00.
Some of the reductions listed in the budget are attributed directly to the COVID-19 pandemic, such as reducing the budget for public events from $8,000 to $2,000; furloughing or laying off community center employees beginning May 7; and paying crossing guards by shifts and not salaries since schools are closed until at least May 15. Those and other personnel decisions are effective May 7.
The Palmyra Police Department’s budget reductions call for the elimination of the digital evidence technician effective May 7, a savings of $20,820, and elimination of new hires for parking enforcement, which the borough and police figure will be a savings of $24,000.
All proposed vehicle purchases for police, fire and sewage departments were denied, for a savings of an additional $216,000. Other reductions in appropriations and the proposed budget are available at BoroughOfPalmyra.com/2020-Budget.
Palmyra High School will still receive two, $250 scholarships for graduating seniors. Riverton Library will also receive a $500 donation.
“All departments have been cut in order to come up with a budget that was only $10,990 dollars over last year’s budget,” Tait noted in her statement. “With the lack of revenue coming in, we were forced however, to have a tax increase of 4.35 percent that maintains essential personnel and services that are needed to run the Borough of Palmyra.”
Included in the tax rate increase are line item increases to public works and police salaries; police pensions; utilities; and insurance, among others. The increases are mandated and must be paid for, per contract agreements.
A new line item, Office of Emergency Management Reserve for Emergencies – Coronavirus Expenses, was added to the budget to assist personnel with response to COVID-19. As of deadline, the borough has spent nearly half of the $25,000 in the fund.
Palmyra has 13 positive COVID-19 cases and two deaths, as of deadline. One person has been released from quarantine.
Construction for Temple Boulevard continues as it is within the previously approved 2020 to 2025 three- and five-year capital improvement fund. No new projects are in the budget.
Council unanimously approved the budget, which will be up for adoption and a public hearing on May 18, beginning at 6:30 p.m. Council holds its next meeting May 4, beginning at 6:30 p.m. via Zoom conference. Meeting details and access are available by visiting BoroughOfPalmyra.com