WM adopts no-tax-hike budget

WEST MIDDLESEX – Borough council adopted a 2020 budget Tuesday without a property tax increase.

West Middlesex’s property tax rate is 25.167 mills, which means landowners will pay about $25.17 for each $1,000 in assessed property value. The owner of a property valued at $25,000 would have a municipal tax bill of $629.18.

The borough’s 2020 budget calls for general fund expenditures of $382,531, a decrease of more than $23,000 from this year.

Council President Bob Lark said the budget included several one-time expenses this year. Among them was paying for the services of an engineer as part of the borough’s road work and actual street repairs, along with getting a new traffic light.

Lark said the borough also found a better deal for its interest-bearing accounts.  

It also includes an expected fund balance of $437,887 by the end of next year, which means the borough could have more money in surplus than it will spend next year.

“Our numbers are impressive,” Lark said about the budget at last week’s work session. “It’s a budget that allows us to do things and at the same time not having to increase taxes.’’

But Lark said West Middlesex has a couple of big-ticket items that could take a bite out of that surplus as soon as next year. He specifically mentioned the borough’s need for a new truck and backhoe.

West Middlesex also has a sizable surplus in its sewer account. Again, though, much of those funds are earmarked for expenses.

The borough projects a fund balance of $840,371 in the sewer account by the end of 2020.

For years, the borough’s municipal authority has banked about $6,700 a month as a cushion against future expenses or emergencies. West Middlesex and Shenango Township share a sewage-treatment plant, which is scheduled for an upgrade mandated by the state Department of Environmental Protection.

West Middlesex would be responsible for paying a portion of any repairs or renovations to the sewer plant.

Extra funds in the sewer account will be used for the town’s share in upgrading the plant and to avoid or decrease the impact of possible future rate increases, said Lark, who also sits on West Middlesex Municipal Authority board.

Lark and Councilman Ron Preston said the borough isn’t allowed to transfer the extra money in the sewer account to its general budget. All of that money must be spent on sewer operations and paying off its debt, both men said.

Both said after the meeting that reducing taxes wouldn’t be a good idea with all of the looming expenses the community faces.

“I don’t want to reduce taxes and then be forced to raise them because of all of this,’’ Lark said.