Though many Bucks County towns, including Bristol, Langhorne, Morrisville and Yardley Boroughs, are holding the line on property taxes for 2012, Newtown Borough is raising its tax rate by 50 percent.
The increase — Newtown's first in 16 years — amounts to $126 for the owner of a house assessed at the borough average of $42,000, to $378. But the impact on the total property tax bill, including about $5,300 in school and county levies, "is more like 2 to 3 percent," Councilman Gerard O'Malley said this week.
"Saying it's a 50 percent increase bothers me when we're talking about $120," Mayor Dennis O'Brien said. "For some people, it's a night out; not necessarily the retirees. We haven't had an increase in 16 years."
It was O'Brien's vote at last week's council meeting that broke a 3-3 tie adopting next year's $2.37 million budget. "Sometimes, you have to do the adult thing," he said of the vote that will increase the tax rate from 6 mills to 9 mills, producing about $127,000.
"I asked for 1 mill last year," the mayor said. "If we had done $10 each of the last 16 years, we'd be golden now."
To avoid a tax increase this year, the borough used $200,000 from its reserves. Next year, only $60,000 will be used from the rainy-day fund.
"We took a balanced approach," said O'Malley, who is co-chair of the budget committee. "We balanced the use of the reserve, increasing revenue through taxes, and responsible expense management."
The tax increase is needed, O'Malley said, to cover the rising costs of health-care insurance, salaries and public works, including snow removal.
"We budgeted $80,000 for snow removal with our hands folded in prayer," Mayor O'Brien said, referring to this year's tab, which was $108,000 over budget.
"People expect a certain level of services—roads and police protection," O'Malley said. "I haven't heard any complaints about services."
Nor has he heard complaints about the tax increase from residents at the council meeting or around town, he said.
Council President Julia Woldorf, who voted against the budget, said the borough "may have needed a tax increase, but maybe not this one."
She questioned a 3.5 percent raise for the police chief and 2.5 percent raises for the secretary and treasurer, and longstanding arrangements for snow removal, road work, and landscaping.
"We have gotten good service … but we haven't requested alternate proposals [for public works contracts] since I've come on Council," said Woldorf, whose four-year term ends Jan. 3 with the board's reorganization.
The police chief's raise matches negotiated salary increases for the four full-time officers. The raises for the two staffers amount to less than $1,000 each, O'Malley said. "If we lost them, hiring replacements would cost more than giving them token raises."
Woldorf, a Democrat who lost her re-election bid in November, said the council can reopen the budget at the reorganization meeting, after newly elected Republicans Larry Auerweck and Robert King are sworn in. But they each said this wewk that they would support the budget as passed.