Borough residents will be paying higher taxes this year.
— Borough residents will be paying higher taxes this year.
"Inadvertently, we did raise them," said Scott Smith, chairman of the borough's finance committee, during Monday night's regular monthly meeting of the council.
In doing the budget last year, the council made a point to say that taxes would not be going up for borough residents.
But Smith acknowledged on Monday he made a mistake and that will translate into about $75,000 more in collections for borough taxpayers this year.
"I did it. I apologize," said Smith.
In a memorandum to members of the council, Smith said that while he was working on setting the budget, he stated with "the electronic file from the previous year" which had a tax rate at 5.30 mills "and so I used this to set the budget, based on inputs from council and departments."
Smith said the starting point for the budget was an estimated cash on hand for the end of the year at $55,000 with an ending balance of $90,000.
Smith said he included additional projects for the years based upon the projections with the tax basis at 5.30 mills. As it turned out, last year there was about $200,000 of cash on hand driven by $40,000 less in expenses and $65,000 more in revenue.
"I received a call from a citizen who said they thought the tax rate had increased," said Smith in the memorandum.
It was at that point Smith said he went back to the spread sheet for 2012 and verified the tax rate of 5.3 mills. Smith said he then checked the minutes of the Dec. 19, 2011 special meeting where an ordinance was passed setting the tax rate for 2012.
It turns out the tax rate was set at 4.98 mills by previous council.
With the 5.3 mills already passed by council, what it means is 0.32 mills difference, or around $75,000 in property taxes from borough residents. That's based on 2,378 taxable properties in the borough and translates to an average of $31 per property.
What it boils down to is the borough will collect $75,000 more in taxes this year than was anticipated.
"We did raise the taxes but with no intention," said Smith. "I apologize for this error and not double checking the basis."
At that point, Smith recommended setting up a separate account to be used to offset future taxes.
But that idea was quickly interrupted by councilman Jim Brennan, who said the Department of Public Works had just discovered their loader broke and a new one needs to be purchased. Estimates put the replacement around $55,000.
"I would prefer to use it next year for taxes," said Smith, "since that is what it is dedicated toward."
"This was inadvertent money," said councilman Harry DeVrieze. "It should be set aside to offset taxes. My point is we weren't supposed to have it now so we shouldn't spend it now."
"I don't think we have the right to spend it," said councilwoman Juanita Pisano.
Brennan told the council members he was "not saying we touch that money," rather, that instead of carrying over a "large surplus," the council could allocate this year's surplus toward purchasing the equipment.
Smith recommended getting a quote from the bank for a rate on a loan for the loader and then making a final decision at the next meeting.
"I don't understand why we would have the banks go through the process," said Brennan.
In the end, the matter was not taken up for a formal vote by the council. It will apparently be considered at the next council meeting.
Knox box controversy
In another matter, the council did move forward on a proposed "knox box" ordinance which would require every commercial building owner to spend money on the system.
A knox box is a device which holds a key to the building. According to fire department officials, if there is a fire, a code can be sent electronically from the 911 center to open the box. Firefighters can then open the door instead of having to break it down.
The ordinance was considered and pushed by former councilman Nick Slish, who ended up resigning last year.
DeVrieze then took over as chairman of the planning and zoning committee and has been in discussion about the proposed ordinance.
DeVrieze made a motion to advertise the motion and have it considered at the next meeting in April.
Mayor Ed Langendoerfer asked if every commercial business will be required to purchase a knox box or face a fine.
DeVrieze said that is the case.
Mike Jones, owner of Northeast Firearms, said he was against any requirement forcing businesses to purchase the knox boxes.
Jones said the same thing happened to his father in Florida and it did not work.
"Anyone can break into a box," said Jones.
Brennan, the former owner of The Limerick in Honesdale, said he was going to vote against the proposal.
"I would not want to put a key in a box," said Brennan.
He said if a business owner chooses not to participate, it should be that person's option.
"Has anyone talked to the downtown business owners?" asked the mayor, who also wanted to know the cost.
DeVrieze said the cost would be $180 "and up."
The ordinance would require all existing commercial businesses to install the boxes within six months. Non-compliance would be enforced by the zoning officer.
Council president F.J. Monaghan emphasized the ordinance first has to be advertised, saying that gives the public time to consider its merits.
When the vote was taken, it passed 6-1 to advertise and consider the ordinance at the next meeting.
Brennan voted against the measure. Voting for it were Monaghan, Smith, Bob Jennings, Mike Slish and Pisano.
During a report given by the mayor, a discussion ensured about the planned construction in the downtown area this summer by UGI.
The company is planning to replace gas lines in the downtown area and will likely disrupt the area most of the spring and summer.
Mayor Langendoerfer said he had "expressed concerns" with representatives of Sen. Lisa Baker, saying he was concerned for the downtown businesses.
The mayor said he had hoped the company could do the work at night in order to cause less disruption of business.
Gail Tucker, executive director of the Greater Honesdale Partnership (GHP), told council members she had met with a UGI representative on Monday morning.
She said the official told her they can't do the work at night, mainly because of safety concerns. Another aspect is the fact in some cases, workers are going to have to have access to building when doing the line replacement, something that would not be feasible at night.
Tucker said she was told they were going to start the work in the center of town and work in 100-foot increments.
"UGI said they would keep everyone up to date on the schedule," said Tucker.
She said they plan to start work sometime in April and will work full days Mondays through Thursdays and then have a short day on Fridays.
Tucker said the work would likely take "all summer."
Brennan told Tucker he wished he would "have known about the meeting," since he is the chairman of the streets committee.
Brennan said it was his understanding there was going to be work done on 7th, 8th, 11th and 12th streets.
He also pointed out the borough has to issue the permits before any work can be done.
"We should not give the permits until we have a schedule," said Brennan.
He said UGI has already requested the permits but have not given the borough specific dates for the construction work.
Editor's note: We will have more from the borough council meeting in our next edition.