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No tax increase in 2013 for Emmaus residents

By Randy Kraft, WFMZ.com Reporter, RKraft@wfmz.com
Published On: Dec 04 2012 05:55:03 AM CST
Updated On: Dec 04 2012 05:55:25 AM CST
EMMAUS, Pa. -

Emmaus residents will face no tax increase in 2013, but will pay slightly higher water, sewer and refuse fees.

The projected 2013 budget is scheduled for adoption at borough council’s Dec. 17 meeting. It totals $8.65 million, which is about $35,000 less than the 2012 budget, said borough manager Shane Pepe.

Despite that reduction, services to residents should remain at the same level next year and no one employed by the borough will be losing a job, said council member Brian Holtzhafer, who chairs its budget & finance committee.

But Pepe said one full-time public works employee won’t be replaced when that person retires in April, one vacancy in the police department won’t be filled until July or later and some part-time employees will see their hours reduced.

At Monday night's meeting, council voted to advertise the final budget. Copies will be available for public inspection at Emmaus Town Hall.

Council member Brent Labenberg said workmen’s compensation insurance will increase $100,000 in 2013 and pension costs will increase by $350,000. “We had to make up $450,000 right there from the get-go,” said Labenberg.

“We were down to the bare bones and then cutting the bones,” said Holtzhafer of the “tough” budget, which included reductions in all departments. “There really isn’t any extra money. I’m not happy with some cuts but they had to be made to keep a balanced budget.”

Council plans to increase quarterly rates for water meters and water consumption by five percent.

“The new water rate will be $2.05 per 1,000 gallons,” said Holtzhafer. Labenberg explained that is a 10-cent-per-1,00- gallon increase.

Quarterly rates will increase from $13.55 to $15 for standard water meters, said Holtzhafer.

Pepe said the quarterly sewer connection rental fee will be $23.75, up from $21.40, and sewer rates will increase from $1.95 to $2.31 per 1,000 gallons.

The water and sewer increases unanimously were passed by council, with final approval on both also set for Dec. 17.

Council also took final action to increase the annual 2013 “refuse assessment fee” by $6, which will be used to allow residents –and only residents -- to use the borough’s composting site.

Council plans to sell old fire signal boxes, called the Gamewell System, which hang on about 40 utility poles around Emmaus. It voted to save an undisclosed amount of money by eliminating that system, because the boxes no longer are needed to signal the fire department in an emergency. “It’s an antiquated system with the advent of cell phones,” said Holtzhafer. He hopes Emmaus can generate revenue by selling each fire box for $100.

Council directed Pepe to explore the possibility of logging and/or selling a 13-acre borough-owned property along South 2nd Street on South Mountain, just outside Emmaus.

Holtzhafer said a reservoir was on the property in the past. Pepe will determine the value of timber on it. Council member Wesley Barrett voted against doing that, but was outvoted 5-1.

Another option would be to keep the trees and sell the land. Pepe will determine how timbering would impact its value.

Labenberg alone voted against exploring selling the property because he doesn’t “want to see any development up there. I’d rather see it stay woods.” But Barrett said a potential buyer might be someone that wants to preserve the land, “which would be great.”

Council also directed Pepe to look into selling “a long strip” of borough-owned land along the railroad tracks on the north side of the 500 block of Jubilee Street.

That strip contains 53 parking spaces, said Labenberg, who cast the only vote against selling it. He said Emmaus should keep it and rent those spaces for $20 a month, giving the borough more than $12,000 a year in revenue. Barrett agreed council should look into renting the spaces, adding: “I really don’t think there is a buyer for that land.”

With no objections from the fire department, council unanimously discontinued the policy of paying volunteer fire fighters to sleep at the fire station, so they more quickly can respond to emergencies. Labenberg estimated ending that “on-call overnight standby duty” will save the borough about $55,000 a year, which other council members called “substantial.”

Also during council’s meeting, it was announced that Emmaus Main Street Partners is joining the Greater Lehigh Valley Chamber of Commerce.

An agreement between the organizations was signed Dec. 1, said Rick Zayaitz, board president of Main Street Partners.

Zayaitz said one reason for the new partnership is resources, adding the chamber has almost 5,000 business members. “It gives us greater flexibility in getting sponsors for our major events, which also helps fund the Main Street program.”

Borough officials said Teri Madison, long-time executive director of the Main Street program, will remain in her position but will be a chamber employee. Pepe said the Main Street Partners’ board also will continue to operate.

Tony Iannelli, president and CEO of the chamber, told council it now has 18 different partnerships across the Lehigh Valley. “We are very bottom up,” he said. “We don’t set the agenda. The community will set the agenda. We just do the best we can to support it.”

Zayaitz expects the chamber also will help with economic development.

Iannelli joked: We’re trying to change the universe with very little money. There’s nothing to it.”

“We want every main street in this valley to be as successful and prosperous as possible,” said Iannelli. “We will do the best we can to work as partners to make Emmaus the best it can possibly be. You’ve got a great downtown. It has a tremendous amount of potential. We’re just hoping we can add something to it.”

He added that includes fewer vacancies in stores and other businesses throughout Emmaus.

Zayaitz said his organization want to build its membership, stressing any businesses that join Main Street Partners now also will become members of the Chamber of Commerce.