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Forks Township Supervisors freeze taxes for 2013, but warn of likely increase in ‘14

Published On: Dec 20 2012 10:23:56 PM CST
FORK TWP., Pa. -

Unlike the federal government, Forks Township isn’t about to drop over a fiscal cliff, but it appears the municipality may be approaching a fiscal gully or ravine.

The Township Board of Supervisors on Thursday night adopted the $8.2 million 2013 municipal budget with no property tax increase, but not without cautioning that a tax increase could very well be on the horizon in 2014.

With the township currently owing a total outstanding debt of $9.1 million and facing fixed cost increases in various areas going forward, a question was raised among the Supervisors if the township should have instead moved ahead with raising taxes in 2013.

That question was answered in a 4-1 vote to hold taxes flat in 2013.

Supervisor David Billings cast the dissenting vote against the budget.

Now that the budget is adopted, the Supervisors said they will -- for the first time in the township’s history -- launch a five-year study of all municipal finances in January. Officials said the study will give officials the perspective needed going forward to determine if and to what extent of a tax increase may be needed in 2014 and beyond.

While the results of that study are not expected until around April, Board of Supervisors Chairman Erik Chuss pointed out what he believed to be an obvious conclusion.

“It will be very difficult to avoid a tax increase in future years,” he said.

Councilman Dan Martyak said he was very supportive of the 2013 budget plan, including holding the line on taxes and holding off on capital outlay across every municipal department.

“I think this is a lean budget that was thought out well,” Martyak said, noting the importance of approving as lean a budget as possible in these difficult economic times. “I believe what we’re doing is the right thing.”

Billings, who voted against the budget, said he will reserve judgment on the decision to not raise taxes in 2013 until the five-year financial plan is completed.

Supervisors did agree the decision to hold off on capital outlay in 2013 is pushing current needs forward that will have to eventually be addressed.

During the public comment portion of the meeting, Bonnie Nicholas, a former Township Supervisor, said the Supervisors should have considered approving a modest tax increase this year. She said she fears the township’s large amount of debt, which has been further exacerbated by a public works building project that ballooned to more than $1 million over budget, will lead to the need for a large tax increase.

Officials said the township has taken steps on better grasping debt, including taking out a loan on itself to ease the public works building project debt.

Officials also noted that the township carries a double-A bond rating, better than the feds.