No millage increase in Kennett

Kennett Township supervisors will not raise real estate taxes in their proposed 2021 budget, which will be advertised for approval next month following a unanimous vote at Wednesday’s meeting.

The proposed budget, which will be voted on at the Dec. 16 supervisors’ meeting, does contain a local services tax (LST) of $52 for every person making over $12,000 who works in Kennett Township. The supervisors voted 2-1 Wednesday to authorize the advertisement of the LST tax, which is expected to be formally enacted at a special meeting on Dec. 7. Supervisors' Chairman Richard Leff voted no.

“What we heard from a lot of the community is that this is not the year” to raise real estate taxes, township Manager Eden Ratliff said in the virtual meeting that at one point had almost 100 people signed on.

“We heard the public’s voice against a real estate tax increase, mainly due to the COVID-19 impact and the uncertainty,” Kennett Township Finance Director Amy Heinrich said. “With no real estate tax increase, there is a local service tax to share the cost of infrastructure with those that work in Kennett Township.”

That doesn’t mean that a real estate tax increase can be avoided in the years ahead.

“We do expect a real estate tax increase in the future,” Heinrich said. “Some of these things … there’s only so long we can put it off. We need to invest in the future of the township.”

“The challenges facing Kennett Township are not going away,” Leff said.

Revenue for 2021 is forecasted at $6.09 million, which includes $200,000 from the local service tax, $2.87 million from earned income taxes, and $1.66 million in real estate taxes. The money from earned income taxes is expected to increase from 2020 as the tax collector goes after two employers who didn’t file, according to Heinrich.

Almost $800,000 in cuts were made to expenses from what was requested in 2021, bringing total expenses to $5.61 million. With $465,000 in expected capital expenses, the 2021 budget shows a surplus of almost $9,000.

Heinrich explained the township staff was able to avoid a real estate tax increase by taking actions like:

  • Moving certain expenses to 2020.
  • Cutting police department expenses by, among other things, hiring one full-time officer at the start of the year and waiting until May 1 to hire the second officer. It also includes purchasing a new police vehicle before the end of 2020 and purchasing the second in 2021.
  • Cutting fire and ambulances expenses by $12,896 – the cost of the part-time fire marshal. The fire marshal’s responsibilities will be taken over by full-time staff and volunteers, according to Heinrich.
  • Cutting planning and zoning expenses by delaying the hiring of an in-house building code official.
  • Cutting public works expenses, which means delaying the hire of a full-time staff member, and also only paving Rosedale Road and finishing the paving the portion of Chandler Mill above Hillendale, according to budget documents. The public works department will also continue using oil and chip instead of a new method using slurry seal – an item that had been removed from the 2020 budget as well. The budget does call for the purchase of a new lawn mower, and for seeking funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency for “major storm damage” to a “large drainage pipe” that could cost $250,000 to replace.
  • Cutting the $55,847 that would have paid for the Historic Kennett Square economic development director. Ratliff explained that Kennett Borough also did not approve funding for the position.
  • Keeping to 2020 levels the contribution requests from organizations like Historic Kennett Square and the Southern Chester County Organization on Transportation (SCCOOT). The budget also calls for cuts to the contributions to the Mushroom Festival and the Kennett Area Park and Recreation board. A donation request from the Kennett Library for new construction will be paid out of the general fund “in lieu of a tax increase in 2020,” according to budget documents.

“The supervisors reviewed expenses … and income,” said Supervisor Scudder Stevens. “We suggested moving certain expenses to 2020. The result is our financial staff has been able to redo the line items to reduce the shortfall. In short, it keeps the lights on for the township.

“But sadly it does not provide adequately for what makes Kennett Township unique and special.”

Ratliff and the supervisors thanked the township staff for the “hundreds of combined hours” they put into the budget process.

“Personally I think Eden, Amy, and the team have worked really, really hard,” Leff said. Supervisors’ Vice Chairwoman Whitney Hoffman echoed that sentiment, thanking the township staff “for working really long hours to get this done.”

“We start talking about budgeting in June or July or August, well before it comes to a public meeting,” Ratliff said. “We understand recommendations we make to the board impact your lives.”

About Monica Fragale

Monica Thompson Fragale is a freelance reporter who spent her life dreaming of being in the newspaper business. That dream came true after college when she started working at The Kennett Paper and, years later The Reporter newspaper in Lansdale and other dailies. She turned to non-profit work after her first daughter was born and spent the next 13 years in that field. But while you can take the girl out of journalism, you can’t take journalism out of the girl. Offers to freelance sparked the writing bug again started her fingers happily tapping away on the keyboard. Monica lives with her husband and two children in Kennett Square.

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