Kutztown residents could see an increase in their property taxes, and water, sewer, and garbage rates, should the borough’s 2020 preliminary budget be approved next month.
Borough Council reviewed and approved the 2020 preliminary budget at their Nov. 19 meeting, which includes a .60 mill tax increase, 5 percent increases for water and sewer rates, and a 10 percent increase for garbage collection.
Borough Manager Gabriel Khalife outlined the preliminary budget for council and the gathered public, noting that the increases are to offset rising costs in salaries and healthcare.
Khalife said the increases average over $200,000 each year.
“Over the years, the borough has found a way to absorb it,” Khalife said.
The 2020 preliminary budget expects revenues and expenditures of $4,779,000 for the general fund, with a .25 mill tax increase. One mill brings in $1 for every $1,000 in assessed property value.
The tax increase for the general fund, coupled with a .25 increase for the fire tax, brings the borough’s tax rate to 4.60 mills, Khalife said. During his presentation, he showed a list of real estate taxes for nine other Berks County boroughs from 2016-2019.
For 2019 Kutztown had a rate of 4.10 in comparison to West Reading's at 9.6, Hamburg's at 8.0, Boyertown's at 6.69, Fleetwood's at 6.45 and Topton's at 6.55 while Wyomissing was 3.90 and Exeter at 3.47.
"Coming in from the positive side, the chart shows that Kutztown has the 3rd lowest taxes for boroughs of its size in Berks County," said Scott R Piscitelli, council member.
“Taxes do go up, not just in Kutztown,” Khalife said. “We’re fortunate, from 2016 to date, to stay at 4.10.”
Water and sewer rates are also proposed to rise by five percent, as council approved advertising a pair of resolutions to that effect. Additionally, beginning in January 2020, a $2 per month, per meter charge for water and sewer services will be instituted to go towards an Infrastructure Improvements Fund.
All increases will need to formally be approved at council’s next meeting in December, following advertisement.
In other business, borough council approved requesting a $379,660 PA Small Water and Sewer Program grant from the Commonwealth Financing Authority, to be used for improvement projects at the Wastewater Treatment Plant.
During the meeting’s public comment portion, a handful of residents approached council regarding concerns with a planned monster truck event at the Kutztown Fairgrounds, set for Labor Day weekend in 2020.
The matter was discussed at council’s Oct. 15 meeting, where Piscitelli moved to approve the event as an “entertainment” event, not a “racing” event, as only 12 “racing” events are permitted at the venue every year.
Council approved the motion 5-1, with Arabel J. Elliott casting the dissenting vote.
Jan Crooker, Kutztown, approached council to urge them to consider the impacts on the surrounding neighborhood.
“This is a neighborhood, and there are people who live close to this proposed venue,” Crooker said, adding that similar events have been held at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia and the PP&L Center in Allentown. She said that organizers of said events “encourage attendees to wear earplugs or noise cancelling headphones,” and warn of fumes, dust, and eye damage.
“I beg you to not go forward with this monster truck event,” Crooker added.
Another resident questioned if the fairgrounds were an appropriate venue for a monster truck event. Should the event be held, the Kutztown Fairgrounds would not be the first in eastern Pennsylvania to hold a monster truck event, as the Bloomsburg Fairgrounds in Columbia County have hosted one for the past 32 years.
Marilyn Fox, Kutztown, said that utilizing the fairgrounds is a “good idea” in general but suggested exploring other events for the venue.
“There are other events that could easily utilize the fairgrounds,” Fox said, raising concerns about noise and pollution. She suggested outdoor concerts, art fairs, craft fairs, or other events.
The fairgrounds are owned and operated by the Kutztown Fair Board, a separate entity from the Kutztown Borough Council.
Kutztown solicitor Keith Mooney explained how the 12-race limit under borough oversight came to be.
“When the Kutztown Fair first started, racing was an event that happened at the fairgrounds,” Mooney said. “When the fair itself stopped having racing as part of the fair, the racing association began having races, and the zoning officer cited them.”
“The borough ended up in court because they tried to shut racing down at the fairgrounds, and then the President Judge of Berks County Courts at that time ruled against the borough and said that racing was something that was historically held at the fairgrounds,” Mooney added. “He picked an arbitrary number – I believe that number was 12 – and so the fairgrounds is allowed 12 racing events every year as a result.”
He added that the question posed to council was not if a monster truck event could be held but if it would count against their 12-race allotment.