By MARCELLA PEYRE-FERRY
For 21st Century Media
OXFORD - There was discussion that with three new council members installed in January, the 2014 budget would be reopened with an eye toward lowering the tax rate. At the Jan. 13 meeting, Council voted to once again advertise the tax levy for readoption, but only because of a typographical error found in the ordinance, not for a change in rate.
“I want to see if there is a way to get back some of the money by spending it differently or not spending it at all,” said new council member Randy Grace, who suggested reopening the budget. “Going line by line, it would provide me with more of an education about what’s in the budget.”
Council members talked about opening the budget during their Jan. 13 meeting, but because of advertising requirements, to meet the February 15 deadline outlined by the state code, they would only have until the end of the month before a new budget would have to be developed.
Instead, council agreed to commit to devoting meeting time to a budget review three times a year going forward so that they can see where money is going and possibly identify areas where cuts can be made.
Mayor Geoff Henry had vetoed the tax levy ordinance as it was approved in December at the new rate of 12 mills, a half mill increase over 2013. “My concern primarily was with the process,” Henry explained his motivation for the veto.
In the spirit of cutting cost, Henry informed council that he is returning the pay checks for his $1,500 annual salary as mayor, plus he has turned in his borough owned cell phone as a cost savings measure.
One item in the budget that has been questioned several times is an annual $70,000 capital account allocation to save for a new street sweeper in three years time. In past years, the same method was used to save for a new truck. There was debate about how effective the sweeper is and if the service could be contracted out at a cheaper rate. Council would like to see figures on actual costs before they go any farther with alternatives.
Kathy Kline, finance officer and deputy executive director from the Chester County Housing Authority, was at the meeting to ask that the borough return money collected $50 per unit every two years, between 2005 and 2010 for inspections. She explained that the housing authority is exempt from taxes and permit fees, and though they could be charged for inspections, she told council that the borough had never done inspections of the authority’s 48 units at Oxford Terrace. She also reported that the authority has its own inspections done annually, and in West Chester and Phoenixville where there are similar ordinances those boroughs do not charge the authority.
“We shouldn’t have been paying these. We’d like our money back,” Klein said about the $7,200 in fees paid. At the same time, however, the authority is required to send a payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT) to the borough each year, calculated from the income off their rental units, and several payments have not been made, totaling close to the fees in question.
Council’s solicitors will look deeper into the situation with a decision on
Klein’s request to come at a future meeting.
Another future meeting is set for Jan. 29 as an informational session for residents about the proposed historic district ordinance. The meeting will be at 7 p.m., with a tentative location of the Oxford Senior Center. Residents are invited to attend with any questions they may have about the new ordinance.
Last year, the borough council, school district and county all supported the creation of a Keystone Opportunity Zone for the expansion of the Flower Baking Company (formerly Tastykake) plant. The new bread production facility opened in May 2013 and since then has already produced more than 10 million loaves of bread.
Dan Scott from Flowers Baking was on hand at the Jan. 13 Borough Council meeting to give council members an update on how well the expansion is going. “We started out sort of crawling and we’re definitely running now,” Scott said, describing it as “one of the most efficient bread lines in the country.”
The factory produces a variety of breads marketed in a six state area, including the Nature’s Own label varieties,and they have reintroduced Wonder Bread using the original recipe and replicating the original packaging.
When the request for a Keystone Opportunity Zone was first made Flower Foods had projected the expansion would add 77 full time jobs. “We’re certainly pleased to report the expansion has added a total of 119 jobs,” Scott said, describing them as good middle class jobs with benefits. “We are really impressed with the quality of the workforce we’ve got from the area. We could not produce the volume or the quality of the products we do without that contribution of our workforce.”