Facing a $400,000 budget gap, Exeter officials met on Tuesday night to discuss options and request recommendations.
They will meet for a formal vote on Tuesday, Dec. 4 to make some tough decisions bound to meet with dissension. Joe Boyle, a representative from the Pennsylvania Economy League brought in to help the budget plan, answered several questions from the concerned group of residents as well as the council.
In a previous meeting, when asked about criticism that borough officials were budgeting based on revenue expected from construction of a Walmart in mind, Councilman Joe Esposito concurred. He said he thought borough officials were anticipating the Walmart in budgetary terms for the past three years. Esposito was on the council for two of those three years.
There were plans to erect a superstore on Wyoming Avenue, but plans fell through earlier this year.
The borough will essentially choose between raising taxes or cutting services, Boyle said. When asked about other options, Boyle joked about the borough possibly winning the lottery.
Boyle said that due to the borough's labor intensive nature, the only way to cut costs would be by either totally eliminating services or by almost doubling the real estate tax rate. The gap won't be filled by just making adjustments, he said.
Council member Larry Dellegrotto said the budget quandary exists due to a spending problem. He said the borough cannot avoid decisions that are going to hurt somebody.
Police union president Sgt. Len Galli vowed to stand against any attempts to cut back on police and fire services. He said borough officials are targeting the police budget because it is the largest and one of only two real options, the other being public works services.
There is no way they can cut the police budget, Galli said. We have a collective bargaining agreement and we will fight for the police and the residents.
Calling the council a wrecking crew, Galli said its current budgets for the department are already unrealistic and fictitious.
Boyle advised the council a tax increase would be legally possible since the borough is well under any mandated municipal tax caps.
But borough resident Joe McCabe said the possibility of raising taxes should be put off.
There's got to be other options, McCabe said. We were supposed to be paid off. Taxes are getting ridiculous at all levels. We can't take it any more.
Councilman Joe Pizano discussed using a stockpile of $1.5 million in the borough's sewer fund, putting off sewer projects and using the sewer fund to mend the general fund.
But Councilman Esposito said the sewer fund money would only provide a temporary fix because there are sewer projects that need to be done.
Boyle advised the council to consider borrowing enough to cover its unfunded debt and pay it back over a matter of 10 years.
Esposito argued against that option as well.
The council has a good bit of work to do before next week's vote, Boyle said.