Communities in crisis: Some municipalities defying the odds

KATELYN HIBBARD/Sun-Gazette The “Welcome to Picture Rocks” sign at the entrance to the borough from Route 220 southbound is one of two erected by an Eagle Scout in 2006. Now, more than a decade later, the state wants the signs to be removed.

Picture Rocks is a small borough of just 656 residents where expenses and taxes are kept low.

There is a community park, virtually no crime and few services to fund.

In fact, Borough Manager Bill Dorman is the only municipal employee and he works just part time.

Minimal expenses seem to be the key to successfully running this small community.

Picture Rocks is among the few communities that has received high rankings through the years from the Pennsylvania Economy League as having a solid tax base and low tax burden.

The total budget is $138,000, and the 1.06 real estate tax millage is among the lowest in Lycoming County.

“I can guarantee you, we will not raise taxes this year,” Dorman said in late 2017. “I can’t remember the last time we did raise taxes.”

Out of that budget, the borough puts aside about $30,000 for snow removal, among the borough’s biggest expenses.

Dorman said the borough gets about $19,000 in state liquid fuels money for roadwork.

There’s the borough’s share of Act 13 money from natural gas proceeds too, much of which goes for upgrades in the park and road improvements.

Still, Dorman said meeting expenses doesn’t get any easier.

“It’s getting touchy,” Dorman said. “This little borough spends $11,500 for street lights. That has gotten more expensive. Workers compensation has gone up.”

The borough allocates $5,000 to the volunteer fire company.

“We farm out many services, such as plowing, maintaining the park as far as mowing,” he said. “We don’t have employees doing that. That helps us from the standpoint of pensions and health insurance.”

The borough has no police department, but contracts with the Hughesville Police Department for law enforcement at a yearly cost of $26,000.

Loyalsock Township is a bigger community, but like Picture Rocks has a strong tax base and a low tax burden, according to the PEL report.

“Our businesses have been our biggest asset in helping us with our tax base,” Supervisor Paul Nyman said.

He points the busy East Third Street corridor, known as the Golden Strip, where many retail businesses, some of them located in either of two shopping plazas, may be found.

Nyman said the plazas are well maintained and attract many shoppers.

The township has also seen residential development in recent years in areas that include Poco Farm Road.

A business privilege tax brings in additional revenues.

In December, supervisors voted to decrease property taxes by 0.2 mills for 2018.