Columbia Borough building

The Columbia Borough municipal offices at 308 Locust St., Columbia.

When: Council meeting, Sept. 12.

What happened: After getting a first glimpse at its proposed 2020 budget, Borough Council is cautiously optimistic it can avoid a tax increase for the coming year. Council reviewed a first draft of the $7.1 million general fund spending plan during a special budget meeting.

Taxes: The draft budget calls for no property tax increase but does rely on a drawdown of a little more than $1 million from the borough’s reserves. Finance Manager Kyle Watts cautioned the numbers are still preliminary because the borough has not yet received its health insurance quotes for the coming year and police contract negotiations are ongoing. Other numbers could also change as more information is received, he said.

Why it matters: The goal is to avoid a tax increase after having raised taxes 21% last year, Council President Kelly Murphy said. To do that, the borough will need to either come up with further spending cuts or use a little more than half of its $2.1 million reserves. Without using any of its reserves, the borough would have to raise property taxes by more than 2.5 mills, which is 31%, to balance the draft expenditure levels.

Background: Last year’s tax increase spurred widespread outcry in the borough, with hundreds of citizens packing council meetings to protest and more than 1,000 signing petitions calling for a repeal of that increase. Although those protesting the hike argued it was because of a since-repealed economic development loan program, borough officials cited increased expenses and a dwindling fund balance.

Quotable: “This is where we are at. We’re just starting. It’s definitely going to change as we get more information,” Murphy said, who added he thinks avoiding a tax increase is achievable.

What's next: Council will get updated projections at its next special budget meeting, which is scheduled for Oct. 3. Department heads are also expected to present their requests for the borough’s capital fund budget at that meeting as well. Plans call for a vote in November to advertise the proposed budget, with final adoption in December.