Tax increase may be unavoidable for Bellefonte

BELLEFONTE — At its weekly meeting on Monday night, Bellefonte Borough Council laid the groundwork for a tax increase in 2019.

The borough will vote on the 2019 budget at its final meeting of 2018. For all intents and purposes, it appears as if a tax increase for borough residents is unavoidable.

Being proposed is a 1.45 mill increase. One mill will go toward the borough’s general fund, one-fifth of a mill will go toward EMS and one-fourth of a mill will go toward parks and rec, specifically Kepler Pool.

“EMS is struggling and we need to make sure we have those services available,” said borough council president Joanne Tosti-Vasey said of the one-fifth millage increase slated to go to EMS.

According to council member Doug Johnson, the tax hike is inevitable.

“We don’t want to raise taxes … but it’s a matter of economics,” he said. “We have to make ends meet or reduce services. That’s the option.”

An average homeowner can expect a tax increase of approximately $75, council said.

There could be some changes to the budget, but that is unlikely, borough manager Ralph Stewart said.

“Unless there are some minor tweaks or changes, it’s pretty much what you’re going to see two weeks from now,” he said.

Borough residents will also see a small increase in recycling fees.

“The recycling center is raising their fees,” Stewart said, “so our costs are going up.”

Residents can also expect to see slight increases in water and sewer fees.

Council will hold its final meeting of 2018 at 7:30 p.m. on Monday, Dec. 17.

The tentative $15.3 million budget is available for review in the borough’s offices for the next 15 days.

In other business:

– Council filled a vacant seat on borough council by choosing Gina Thompson of Bellefonte. A total of three residents came forward to fill the seat. Prior to last night’s regular meeting, council members selected Thompson to fill the seat until next year’s general election.

“All three were excellent candidates,” said council president Joanne Tosti-Vasey, “but Gina was the person we selected.”

Thompson will be representing Bellefonte’s South Precinct and replaces Evan Duffey, who moved to California.

– The Mills Brothers Historic Sign on High Street was recently struck by a vehicle. Stewart said that the Pennsylvania Historic and Museum Commission had been contacted and the sign will be replaced.

– Council announced that PennDOT will be paving Bishop, North Water and North Thomas Streets in 2019. At that time, PennDOT will help to upgrade curbs in the borough to get them up to ADA standards. The project is estimated to cost between $250,000 and $300,000. Monies that had been earmarked for paving will be moved for the work on the curbs.

“Even though it’s a lot of money, it’s an efficient way of doing this,” Stewart said.

– In addition to Bellefonte’s Victorian Christmas taking place this weekend, council member Melissa Hombosky reminded residents that a “Winter Market” will be held along the waterfront from 3 to 8 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 8. There will be food and drink vendors along with specialty holiday items for sale. The lights that were used for Bellefonte’s “Under the Lights” dinner have been re-installed.