Gettysburg residents may see the tax rate rise in the next household as the city council struggles to fill the budget gap created by the pandemic.
The district has spent a large part of its reserve funds, which complicates the budget process.
Red ink in the district budget
"The council has done a very good job of putting in place good fiscal policies, and that policy has netted low six-figure surpluses for three consecutive years, allowing the county to fully fund its fund accounting policies," said county manager Charles Gable. “However, with the pandemic and our huge budget constraints this year, $ 600,000 of the reserve fund has been spent or will be spent by the end of this year. That puts us in a precarious position when we develop the 2021 budget. "
Gable said last year the council spent $ 123,000 to fill the 2020 budget gap rather than raising taxes. This year the Council is considering tax increases as funds are rapidly running out. The $ 123,000 "double blow" that closed the gap last year, and the pandemic-linked revenue cuts and increased spending this year have left the community in a difficult position.
"We're a community of about 5,000 people supporting services for about 4 million visitors," said Gable. "The community gets only a fraction of its budget from the pillow tax and about 40 percent of our estimated value is tax-free."
Gable noted that Gettysburg College voluntarily pays property taxes on some of its properties.
The district plans to cut the budget in other areas to fill the gap and minimize the tax hike. Gable said the budget the council is working with is "very strict" compared to budgets from previous years.
"A few years ago we had two full-time park attendants in the park department," said Gable. “That's one now. We started this year with eight full-time employees in our public works department. Five full-time positions are estimated in 2021. In just these two departments the district has minus four full-time employees. The story doesn't stop there. "
Gable explained that changes have also been made in the finance department. The police department has nine positions instead of the typical eight as they were forced to add one position due to a court order earlier this year.
Gable said the district pays roughly $ 220,000 to $ 230,000 in debt each year, with payments rising to $ 660,000 in 2026. The district has saved approximately $ 153,000 on a CD to collect interest and create a fund for the expected larger payments. Gable said the council could use $ 75,000 of that money towards next year's debt payments to fill the gap in the 2021-22 budget.
Gable said he also reduced the budget for administrative training from $ 12,000 to $ 2,500 at the request of a council member.
Health care premiums will rise, but not as much as Gable had foreseen in an earlier draft budget. Instead of a 12.5% increase, the district will see a 7.2% increase, saving some expected costs.
"If the council is happy with all of these line items and the current headcount on budget, we're still very out of budget," said Gable. "Essentially, there are very few options left to fill this gap."
Without additional cuts, the district would still see higher millage rate increases than the council wishes. Gable said an increase of 1.0699 mills would be needed to balance the budget without additional cuts, making a rate of 4.9019 mills.
Councilor Matt Moon said he was uncomfortable with the lack of a safety net even after the millage was over.
"The Council has heard me say this before, but I would strongly recommend increasing this millage to ensure we have a safety net for failure this year, regardless of whether these are legal costs that we have not planned, or some kind of weather event or, I don't know, some kind of pandemic, ”Moon said. "I think we should have some cash in reserve."
Gable said the district is at or just below the 18 percent savings reserve listed on its policy.
Councilor John Lawver said he was concerned about the increase in taxes, especially for those laid off during the pandemic and for those on fixed incomes. He also predicted that landlords would offset the tax hike by increasing rental prices.
Gable said the council was considering alternatives that it discussed in a previous meeting, or a combination of those possibilities.
Councilor Patti Lawson said she was also unhappy with the idea of collecting taxes. "It will return to the people who rent," she said.
Lawson said she is also concerned about downsizing for the public works department, especially if the area is experiencing weather-related issues.
"We will be faced with a tax hike," said the council's vice-president, Wes Heyser. “We kind of know that. There is no way to get this to zero. So the question is how much do you want to include. "
Lawson said Moon's concerns about maintaining emergency savings also need to be addressed.
"If we don't have a pillow, we'll be in a worse position," Lawson said, using the court-ordered additional police position and the pandemic-related expenses and lost income as examples of reasons the county needs reserves. "We don't know what is being thrown at us."
The council reviewed several line items and made some changes, but found that others could not, or only slightly, be changed.
"I don't think any of us have the illusion that we're going to cut a huge sum here," said Moon. "There's not a lot of fat to trim."
The council discussed cutting its public relations budget, but decided that the fees paid to Community Media (formerly Adams Community Television – ACTV) should stay within budget as some community members depend on television broadcasts from district assemblies. Other line items were reduced while the police were reviewing the overtime budget.
Robert W. Glenny Jr., Gettysburg police chief, said he was "not against" slashing the budget by $ 10,000-20,000 but could not "jump on board" with drastic cuts. He suggested a few minor changes, including reducing the ammunition budget by $ 500 to $ 1,000.
Heyser noted that some overtime is compulsory for the court and other necessities but wasn't sure how much it could be reduced, and said overtime payments have varied over the years.
Gable said he would re-examine the draft budget with the changes proposed at the meeting and then resubmit it to the council at its next meeting.
Imari Scarbrough is a freelance journalist. She was a newspaper reporter for five years before going freelance in 2017. She has written about crime, environmental issues, severe weather events, local and regional government and more.
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