The Bensalem Township Council approved the final spending plan for the coming year on Monday night, which maintains the township's current 19.05 millage rate and includes the $100 Homeowners Assistance Grant Program contributed by Parx Casino host fees.
At that rate, the owner of a home assessed at the township average of $21,000 would continue to pay approximately $410 in annual real estate taxes, according to Jack McGinley, the township’s chief financial officer. Of that amount, McGinley said $72 goes to volunteer fire and rescue squads while the township receives the remainder.
Township homeowners originally received $300 annually from the casino's host fees. That amount has, in recent years, been cut to $100 per household.
Council President Ed Kisselback told Patch that because of increasing costs in everything from health insurance, to pensions and more, the council recognized that the homeowners' grants either had to be reduced, or taxes would have had to be raised.
"Everything's up, up, up," Kisselback said, adding that health insurance and pension costs in particular, have risen "wildly," while the amount received from real estate taxes, because of assessment appeals, has decreased. "The amount of revenue that’s coming in isn’t as much as what's being spent."
Because of that, Kisselback said the governing body had to "borrow some money" from the township's trust fund, which he said was created following the $60 million sale of the water and sewer authority. Kisselback said the funds were used to "basically continue the homeowners grant."
Kisselback said it costs roughly $1.5 million for every $100 given to homeowners.
The bulk of the Parx Casino fees paid to Bensalem are used to cover the 10 police officers hired since the casino opened, Kisselback said. In all, the township employs 100 police officers, he said.
Despite the growing costs, Kisselback said, "we’re maintaining our safety and protection of the people" by keeping the police force intact.
"That was a major concern," Kisselback said, noting that other municipalities have considered scaling back their police force. "We never had that be part of our conversation."
In the last couple years, Kisselback said Bensalem has cut back approximately 10 percent of its employees–with the exception of police.Health insurance expenses are another area the township cut, according to McGinley. He said the township sought bids for health insurance and while the costs are higher than in 2013, "it would have been much greater" had the township not changed its current plans.