LEWISBURG — A consultant’s study of Lewisburg’s finances found that property taxes won’t need to be increased for the next three years.
Revenue and expenses look to remain stable through 2022, save for a spike related to an estimated $1.5 million expenditure for a flood plain restoration project next year in the area of Hufnagle Park. That project is covered by a $1.35 million grant, with the rest due from borough coffers, according to the study.
Borough council last raised taxes for the 2017 budget. The current millage rate is 12.74, or $1,274 on each $100,000 of a property's assessed value.
The Daily Item reviewed the projections as the borough, along with neighboring municipalities, readies next year’s budget. Borough Manager William Lowthert acknowledged the projections concerning real estate taxes, saying the decision on increases — or in the case of 2018, a decrease — ultimately belongs to the council.
“At this point, there’s no projection for a tax increase in 2020,” Lowthert said.
The Early Intervention Plan (EIP) created by Stevens & Lee law firm and its financial consultancy arm, Financial S&Lutions, reviewed Lewisburg’s finances from 2014-18 and created financial projections for 2018-22. The plan was developed during 2018 and presented to borough council in February.
The study forecast the exhaust of the borough’s year-to-year surplus by 2022, in large part to cover the matching funds required for the flood plain project. Its projection was based on current staffing levels, increases of 6 percent and 2 percent for healthcare and labor, respectively, and no new debt incurred.
The largest increase in spending is forecast for administrative services which, the study projects, would consume more than 48 percent of budgeted expenses by 2022. It projected slight increases to the per capita tax.
There are recommendations across all departments including police, with the consultants recommending Lewisburg focus on strategic planning and revising the cost-sharing plan with East Buffalo Township with respect to the regional police department — the cost issue, of course, being the main component of an ongoing legal dispute between the township and borough. The study suggests continuing with regionalization and exploring additional areas to regionalize despite existing political differences with municipal neighbors.
The cost of the study was $77,739.96, with 80 percent refunded by the state Department of Community and Economic Development, according to Lowthert. The state offered the study funds after a planned consolidation study with East Buffalo Township was scuttled by the latter municipality in 2016, Lowthert said.
EIPs can be a precursor to distressed municipalities entering the state's financial rehabilitation program, Act 47, such as was the case for Shamokin. However, Lowthert said that isn't the case for Lewisburg.
Among the dozens of recommendations in the study, Lowthert said long-term strategic planning must be a focus moving forward. Specific to planning suggestions in the study are with respect to flood protection and mitigation as well as capital expenditures.
“I would really like to get us into a position where we plan out our budgets five to 10 years and have anticipated expenses, projects and tax increases laid out,” Lowthert said. “We’re not there yet but it’s a direction we’re moving.”
Council members drafted but haven’t finalized mission and vision statements, respectively, according to Kim Wheeler, Lewisburg’s special projects coordinator and grants manager. The next step would be to prioritize objectives and goals, she said.
“We need to strengthen our planning for the future within the borough right now,” Wheeler said, adding that such planning will be done internally as the budget won’t allow for hiring consultants to take on the task.
“When you do long-term planning, you’re trying to create a plan that transcends administration and elected officials,” Wheeler said.