SOUDERTON — In 2024, Mike Coll will have worked for Souderton Borough for 42 years, including 40 years as borough manager.
That's when he'll be retiring, he told shocked Souderton Borough Council members at its Nov. 16 work session meeting.
"I feel like my dog just died," council President Brian Goshow said after hearing the news, with other council members voicing agreement.
The announcement came as Coll responded to comments made by a resident at the board's Nov. 2 meeting about next year's proposed budget, which includes a 2.9 percent property tax increase.
One of the issues raised was a budgeted 3 percent raise for borough employees.
"We do have a police contract that requires a 3 percent increase in wage and historically what we do for one department, we have been doing for the other employees as a whole," Coll said at the Nov. 16 meeting, "so I would like to continue that particular practice."
He is suggesting, however, that the manager's proposed salary be decreased to $100,000 and frozen at that level through 2024 when he will retire, he said.
Coll's salary this year is $98,880, according to budget information, which had put next year's proposed salary at $101,920.
Keeping the salary at $100,000 for the four years would save more than $10,000 over what would be paid without the change, he said, along with also having another benefit for the borough.
"It would then give a baseline that is not going to jump so when you negotiate your next contract with the next manager, you have a little lower number to work from," Coll said.
When a new manager is hired, the pay situation will be similar to what is happening with Police Chief James Leary's retirement the end of this year in that the salary for the new hire will increase, Coll said. A new police chief has not yet been hired, so the salary is not yet set, but when the borough advertised for a new chief, it listed the salary at $110,000, he said. Leary's salary this year is $103,560, budget information shows.
The hiring of a new police chief or borough manager could also bring additional administrative personnel and costs, Coll said. Changes are being discussed to the police chain of command and while Souderton has only a borough manager, there are other towns that have a municipal manager, assistant manager or finance director or all three, as well as other positions, such as recreation director, he said.
In order to have an orderly transition to the next manager, the borough should have that person on board no later than the fall of 2024 so the new manager could prepare the 2025 budget, he said.
Municipal managers are hired at-will, so his proposal for a four-year contract would not be a guarantee of employment during that time, he said.
"What the contract does is it simply sets forth compensation and benefits," Coll said.
Council members Richard Godshall and Dan Yocum each called Coll's pay freeze offer "admirable."
The proposed budget raises the property tax to 5.95 mills, putting the bill for a home assessed at $150,000 at $892.50. Each mill equals $1 of tax per $1,000 of assessed property value.
The average increase will be $25.50, Coll said.
The 5.95 mill rate increases the rate for the general fund to 5.35 mills and the fire prevention tax to 0.27 mills, with the library tax unchanged at 0.33 mills.
The increase in the fire tax is for an expected hike in the fire company's worker's compensation insurance costs, he said.
About half the general fund increase is to replace a drop in revenue in some categories, including the real estate transfer tax, he said. The other half is for cost of living increases spread throughout the budget, he said.
Cuts could be made to the budget to avoid a tax hike this year, he said, but that would only defer the costs.
"It's only temporary relief. It's not gonna give you any long-term relief," Coll said. "I fear that if we don't make the incremental step now, you're looking at some significant increases later which I don't think the taxpayers would really appreciate at all."
Goshow said the borough made budget cuts during the 2008 recession along with there having been pay freezes for employees.
"Interestingly enough, pay freezes were instituted by the people that were getting paid," he said. "They weren't asked for by borough council."
In a separate matter at the meeting, Coll said the deadline for voting on the Business Improvement District's re-authorization for another five years was Nov. 12. Under the new plan, the BID will be extended to include all the business properties in Souderton and Souderton-Telford Main Streets will merge with the BID to form one organization called Souderton Connects that will focus on Souderton.
Property owners in the district pay an assessment to the BID equaling 4.5 percent of the amount paid for school, county and borough property taxes.
Under state rules for BIDS, the plan is approved unless 40 percent or more of the property owners give written notice that they are opposed to being part of the BID. There is no ballot and property owners who do not give notice of opposition are considered a yes vote.
"Out of the proposed 196 parcels, 47 parcels voted against re-authorization, so that represents 23 percent," Coll said.
That puts it below the 40 percent threshold and gives the re-authorization, he said.
An ordinance approving the re-authorization will be voted on at council's Dec. 7 meeting, he said.
There were more properties in the re-authorization vote this time than when the BID was started five years ago, but the percentage of no votes was similar, Coll said.
While not mentioning the presidential election, Mayor John Reynolds called attention to it by commenting on the BID vote.
"Can I just make note that in the state of Pennsylvania, at least one vote has been completed and verified," he said, drawing laughs from board members.