KENNETT SQUARE >> A small group of borough residents who feel taxes are too high have proposed ways that could bring some extra income to the borough coffers.
One of those ways includes persuading borough officials to approach officials at the Kennett Area YMCA and ask that every member contribute $1 per year to the borough.
“One of the problems here is that there is too much tax-free property,” said Tony Talamonti at a recent town hall meeting attended by many borough officials. “The YMCA is packed from 6 in the morning to 8:30 at night and most are not Kennett Square people.”
Talamonti is administrator of a new Facebook group called Kennett Borough Watchdogs. It has 101 members, and the discussion centers around fiscal responsibility.
Talamonti told borough officials at the town hall meeting that it is much more expensive to live in Kennett Square than neighboring municipalities. He said it costs $2,416 per person per year to live in Kennett Square, while it only costs $600 per person to live in Kennett Township, $738 per person to live in Manheim Township and just $330 per person to live in Doylestown. He culled the numbers from public budgets and freedom of information requests.
“I live on a limited income,” Talamonti said. “I am surprised this year with all the increases. It feels like we are living in Beverly Hills. I don’t know how we got this far in debt.”
To balance the budget, the borough needed to transfer $750,000 from the water, sewer and trash fund into the general fund. Some residents have called this maneuver a “backdoor tax.” In addition, the borough’s uniformed workers (police officers) received a 3 percent hike, and non-uniformed borough workers got a 2.5 percent hike for 2016.
“I don’t want to see anybody take pay cuts or not get their raises,” Talamonti said. “I went six, seven, eight years without getting a raise when business was slow. We need to do the same things. There are a lot of people in Kennett Square living below the poverty level, double what the county averages.”
Talamonti and others suggested to officials that if they institute a $1 per month amusement tax on the YMCA, the borough would generate an additional $160,000 in lieu of taxes.
“They raise their membership fees all the time,” Talamonti said. “We just need to figure out how to get them to pay their fair share.”
But instituting an amusement tax is illegal since the YMCA is a registered non-profit agency. The Y pays for its water and sewer bills, but the borough does not generate any tax revenue from the YMCA. But the Y could ask its members for a suggested $1 per month donation to go into the borough’s general fund.
Doug Nakashima, executive director of the Kennett Area YMCA, said that won’t happen.
“The Kennett Y is here to strengthen the foundations of our community and as a vital non -profit, we have had a very positive impact on Kennett Square,” he said. “Last year, more than 2,500 families received financial assistance to participate in Y programs and services. As a 501(c)3 organization, we are exempt from taxes. There is no merit to this idea.”
Former Council President Leon Spencer said non-profits like the Kennett YMCA make the town attractive to both visitors and borough residents. And the Kennett Area YMCA, he said, gives financial assistance to more than 5,000 people totaling $578,954. Spencer said the Kennett YMCA is directly responsible for the decrease in juvenile crime.
Kennett Square Councilman Geoff Bosley acknowledged the amusement tax is illegal. He said comparing Kennett Square to other municipalities is “like comparing apples to oranges.” He promised a series of public meetings this year leading up to the budget this fall that will focus solely on finances.
“Our debt is almost half of what it was eight or nine years ago,” Bosley said. “I think we are making progress and we are going in the right direction. We are doing a lot of good things. Can we be doing better? Probably.”
Talamonti criticized officials for voting late last year against former coucilman Tony Plumley’s proposal that would have cut $1 million from the budget.
“It’s a slap in the face to citizens,” Talamonti said. “Chip Plumley figured how to cut $1 million and you didn’t even give him $10. Somebody needs to come up with a plan where we can pay off some of this debt instead of spending money.”
Ideas presented to council at the town hall meeting included replacing equipment every 15 years instead of 10 years, and using outside help to do some of the work the public works department currently does.
“Instead of paying contractors to put water lines in, that’s what our guys should be doing,” Talamonti said. “Why can’t we pay some kid to rake leaves and cut the grass?”
Matt Fetick, Kennett Square mayor, said council would need to vote if it decides to formulate a request to the YMCA for the voluntary contribution of YMCA members.
Talamonti and John Thomas, a borough resident and former councilman, said they are concerned that Moody’s rating agency has downgraded the borough, and they believe it is because of the borough’s extensive debt.
Thomas Trandelenberg of the Kennett Borough Watchdogs, said the group will continue to monitor borough expenses.
“We are reviewing real-time expenses,” he said in a handout given to Kennett Square officials and residents at the meeting. “We want Kennett businesses to succeed, but we believe any businesses should sustain itself without using taxpayers’ money.”