With its preliminary $650,000 budget available for inspection, the borough of Harmony has no immediate plans to hike its fire tax to fund a new building for the department.
At its Nov. 9 meeting, Harmony Borough Council voted to table the topic of increasing its fire tax, a request made by the Harmony Fire District that would help the department pay for a proposed $7.8 million new station on Route 19 in Jackson Township.
That follows the inclusion of a ½-mill tax increase in Zelienople's proposed 2021 budget, which will be discussed at that borough's Dec. 14 meeting.
Harmony Mayor Cathy Rape said council planned to follow the lead of the three other municipalities primarily served by the fire company with respect to upping their fire contributions. In October, Jackson Township supervisors said they felt uncomfortable moving forward with such an increase given the information provided to them by the district.
“It's kind of on hold. We want to all be on the same page, as far as Zelienople and Lancaster and Jackson,” Rape said. “I think they're waiting, and the consensus was even if we raised our portion, it wouldn't be that much of a difference for the firemen to use or put aside.”
A majority of council members would likely support such a move, according to council president Greg Such, but they would like some “clarity” on the site before upping the tax.
“Things are kind of up in the air with that right now, with the change in administration at the fire district. Basically, they're re-looking at the site plans,” Such said. “Based on that and, following Jackson's lead, we decided that we were not going to approve a tax increase. The fire department asked us for half a mill, and we kind of said, 'Half a mill isn't that much money when it's all said and done.'”
Harmony currently levies 1.5 mills for its fire tax, half the statutory maximum of 3 mills for a borough. That rate generates roughly $11,000 in revenue that is transmitted directly to the department. If the borough were to up its tax by a half mill each year until it reached 3 mills, that figure would increase by $3,600 annually until reaching about $22,000, although property value fluctuation would ultimately affect that final total.
Rape agreed with Such that such an amount of money would make little difference to the department's bottom line, and noted that the increase would be around $25 per household, dependent on property value.
“For $25 a year, I'd be happy with the kind of fire protection you'd get for that kind of money,” she added.
The preliminary budget also has $4,000 set aside to use on a Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program grant received jointly by Harmony and Zelienople following nearly a year of contentious debate on whether and how to use the grant.
Harmony currently plans to use $150,000 of the grant, slightly less than the roughly $166,000 it would have received after splitting it with neighboring Zelienople. While an unpopular idea when the borough received word about the grant was to renovate the town square and ultimately close it to vehicular traffic, Harmony expects to use the funds on the basics: sidewalks, curbs and paving.
“I'm happy that we finally made a decision and we're hopefully going to move forward with renovation of the square, with curbs and handicapped ramps,” Rape said.
The borough also plans to move one utility pole Such described as being “in the way,” and will also lay a conduit under the square for any future project that would include moving overhead electrical wires underground, according to Rape.
Because the RACP grant is a matching grant, Harmony will have to spend $150,000 of its own funds on the project. Such said the borough plans on taking on debt to finance its share, something to which some members of council seemed averse.
“Some of the council members took a strong interest in it, and we refined our estimates from the engineer and put the numbers together and then looked at 'If we spend that much money, how do we pay for it?' and came up with a plan,” Such said.
The borough will also have to front the $150,000 in grant money as the Department of Community and Economic Development reimburses, rather than gives a check to, municipalities for costs endured.
Such said the 2021 budget is largely not affected by the pandemic and state-mandated business closures.
Harmony's second-largest revenue stream, behind only income from the water department, is the roughly $122,000 it projects to receive in earned income tax. The borough received roughly $30,000 in a CARES Act grant earlier this year that Such said covered a dip in revenue and increase in expenses borne by the borough due to COVID-19.
Among the revenue items Harmony expects to receive in 2021 is another $7,900 in CARES Act funds, the application for which Harmony has submitted in the past two months.