Borough mayor Charlie Pierce is working to put together a balanced budget that doesn’t include new taxes. The borough faces a roughly $4 million shortfall for fiscal year 2019. The assembly was set to vote on a pair of items Tuesday night intended to fill that gap, but that won’t happen until next month when the assembly gets a first official look at the mayor’s budget.
The mayor’s promise to balance the budget without raising taxes hinges largely on the assembly’s willingness to tap into the borough’s land trust fund.
“The three million (dollar) transfer, basically assures that we will be able to flat fund the education budget as well. It was an option to utilize existing funds that we have versus seeking new taxation to accomplish the needs of the borough," Pierce said.
That fund holds about $7.5 million right now, and the Assembly can divvy that out into the general fund as it sees fit. Pierce encouraged drawing even more from the fund to be able to give the school district all the money it’s requested.
“It’s not doing anything for you right now and your option is to go out and tax the taxpayer during a recession to gain more revenue and I can’t support that. You’re getting less than one percent interest on that fund right now, it’s sitting there, are you buying any land in the future? You’ve got some funds in there that you could do it. Are we going to build a school? Are we going to build a fire station? Do we need some land? What are we going to do with that?”
The answer to the mayor's questions will have to wait, as the assembly wanted more time to think about that issue. As it did the other ordinance that would help get the borough back into the black.
A proposal from assembly member Kelly Cooper asks voters to entertain paying more in borough sales tax, from 3 to 3.5 percent. Interestingly, the argument for increasing sales tax, that it would keep more money from tourists and visitors, is the same argument we heard in favor of a bed tax, but the bed tax didn’t have enough support on the assembly to get on the fall ballot. Assembly member Hal Smalley joined on as a co-sponsor, reminding the assembly that getting a sales tax increase on the ballot is just one step toward bringing in more revenue.
“This won’t be the battle here, I don’t believe in this body. The battle is going to be convincing the voters to do this. It’s easy to talk about it here, but those people that are in support need to be very vocal in their areas.”
Assembly member Norm Blakely offered up an amendment that would sunset the sales tax increase after four years, but it failed by a 6-3 vote. The sales tax ordinance was also pushed back and will get a vote on May 1st.