While Pennsburg borough council is still in the midst of budget talks for 2012, one borough official is saying that the time for holding the line on taxes has come and gone.
And he says a .4 mil tax increase, equal to about $54.50 for the average homeowner, is the only viable solution for aging borough facilities and infrastructure.
Unfortunately, said Council President John Lear after Tuesday’s council meeting, the Pennsburg borough building’s better days have come and gone. The building was constructed in 1952. Since last month, when officials discussed fixing cracks in the exterior of the building at Fifth and Dotts streets and mold and water damage found after Hurricane Irene, a whole new set of problems has surfaced. The heating system in the building has succumbed to age, costing $16,800 to replace last week, and the borough also found they have a slew of new tenants – bats.
While their numbers aren’t known, the bats have apparently been calling the upstairs of the building home. Lear said borough employees thought they had a rat problem but it turns out it is a problem of the winged variety.
An exterminator, who Lear said camped out at the location for the night, made the determination the week before Halloween. The bats are reportedly coming in large spaces between the old glass block windows and the brick and possibly under the roof.
Council agreed during the meeting to get estimates on bat remediation and mold testing to determine just how bad the mold problem is in the building, which also houses the Upper Perk Police Department. The Upper Perk Police Commission voted last week to purchase on dehumidifier for the space, which is currently being jockeyed between two locations, to help cut down on the moisture in the damp space.
“We need to tear out the wall in the office and the odds are great that there is mold in there,” Lear said, noting mold was already found in a portion of the wall cut out by borough employees to find the source of water damage. “We need to make sure people aren’t breathing mold spores.
“The public has to know we can’t have people working in a building like this. You wouldn’t let these things go in your house. This needs to be taken care of.”
While there is no timeline for the mold testing or estimates for damage and possible mold remediation, Lear said it needed to be done as soon as possible.
One solution, he explained, is to move the borough offices to the upstairs of the building. Two spaces were already framed out on opposite sides of that floor, which used to serve as a gymnasium, thanks to a developer agreement completed several years ago. The borough is currently looking into having developers Bob Christman and Wil Hallman Retirement Developments complete that work with drywall, electric service, carpeting and paint in coordination with their development of the Still Water community off Montgomery Avenue in the borough.
But the borough would still have to install zoned heating and air conditioning, have utilities moved up to the space, repair the steps from 5th Street to the space and make the second floor, including at least one bathroom, accessible in line with Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requirements.
The borough’s code enforcement office is already located on the second floor due to space restrictions downstairs.
The move would not only free up the office downstairs to be fixed up, to continue to serve as council chambers, it would also be an important public safety move. It would separate the borough offices and the public from the activities of the Upper Perkiomen Police Department.
“It’s not going to be a Taj Mahal up here,” Lear said, motioning to the old wooden gym floors still painted for basketball and other sports. “It’s not wasteful spending. We’ve been pretty forward-moving with what we’ve done. If we find savings we’re taking them. We are turning over rocks and finding nickels instead of dollars…We just can’t let this building go anymore.”
Lear proposed taking out a $100,000, five-year loan for the project and also putting tax money aside for the replacement of the building’s 12-year-old roof. That would account for .2 mills of a proposed tax increase. He also said other budget items, like fixing the borough’s roads which have been put on hold long-term due to finances, could start to be addressed with the other .2 mills of tax income.
“The financial position we’re in in Pennsburg isn’t good,” he said. “Our taxes basically pay for police. We can’t wait anymore; we’re in bad financial shape. We have come to a crossroads in this borough. Either we have to spend some money or you’re drawing a line in the sand and saying you’re not going to fix anything.”
While no vote has been taken on the issue, Lear said discussion has taken place and will continue to be talked about at the next budget meeting Nov. 15.