Monroeville tables vote on budget that would raise taxes

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After nearly three hours of discussion among officials and residents Tuesday night, Monroeville council tabled votes on the municipality's 2013 budget.

The proposed $27.3 million spending plan includes a 1.25-mill tax hike. If approved, the property tax rate would increase from 2.2 mills to 3.45 mills, based on current property values. It would be the first tax increase in more than 20 years.

But like other Allegheny County municipalities, Monroeville faces budget uncertainty due to the county's recent property reassessments. The final millage rate likely will be lower than 3.45 mills once the rate is adjusted for new, higher property values.

Municipalities need to know the new total value of taxable properties to set millage rates that are "revenue neutral," meaning most towns will be required to lower their rates. Municipal governments are allowed to collect up to 5 percent in additional real-estate tax revenue as a result of reassessment next year, but Monroeville's proposed hike would be more than that, meaning the municipality would need the approval of a Common Pleas Court judge.

Mayor Greg Erosenko noted that Common Pleas Senior Judge R. Stanton Wettick, who is overseeing the reassessment, approved a one-month extension of the deadline for municipalities to set millage rates and pass their final budgets.

The proposed 2013 spending plan was prepared over the summer and is based on current assessed values in the municipality, municipal manager Jeffrey Silka said.

Mr. Silka said the final 2013 millage rate could increase or decrease depending on the final reassessed values of all the properties in Monroeville. That figure won't be known until Dec. 21, he said.

Mr. Erosenko began Tuesday night's meeting by opining on the proposed budget. The current spending plan calls for funding to retain the municipality's 911 dispatch center, but some have called to shutter it and use Allegheny County dispatchers to handle Monroeville's 911 calls, which would save the municipality about $600,000 annually.

Mr. Erosenko said he doesn't think it's right to put the center's eight full-time and six part-time employees out of work.

He also questioned the wisdom of suggested cuts to the Monroeville Senior Citizens Center and other municipal services.

"Are you going to like the way Monroeville's going to look at the end of the day?" he asked. "You're going to pay for these services one way or the other, or have none of them."

Monroeville resident John Yakim, who has run for public office, including state representative and a council seat, decried the planned tax hike and said the increase "in excess of 50 percent" wouldn't be a panacea for the municipality's fiscal woes.

"We are living outside of our means," he said.

Mr. Yakim also criticized Mr. Erosenko, saying that finding cuts in the budget was the mayor's responsibility, to which the mayor shot back, "I know you're running for mayor next year, so why don't you put [solutions] out there?"

Mr. Yakim said he does not plan to run for mayor in 2013.

Councilman Bernhard Erb proposed an amendment to the budget that would phase out the municipality's dispatch center by spring, among other cuts, totaling a savings of nearly $600,000. Council ultimately voted to table Mr. Erb's amendment as well as other budget-related ordinances.

Mr. Erb also noted that allowing gas companies to drill into Marcellus Shale formations on Monroeville land could bring more than $1 million in revenue to the municipality.

Councilman Nick Gresock encouraged the municipal manager to find new ways to save money but said a cut to services could be a shortsighted "knee-jerk reaction."

He noted that the tax hike would be the first since 1991 and said that some of the services on the chopping block are what make Monroeville an attractive place to live.

Mr. Erb also questioned the municipality's progress in seeking payments in lieu of taxes - PILOT agreements - from nonprofit and tax-exempt organizations in Monroeville, including the new UPMC East hospital.

Councilwoman Diane Allison said UPMC has been "willing to discuss" the possibility of a PILOT agreement but got sidetracked amid an Allegheny County Council hearing on the nonprofit health care giant's nonprofit status.

UPMC spokeswoman Susan Manko declined to comment on a PILOT agreement with Monroeville.

Mr. Silka and Ms. Allison said they sought PILOT agreements with UPMC and Forbes Regional Hospital first because they're the largest tax-exempt organizations in the municipality but said about 30 such organizations are in Monroeville.

Mr. Erosenko called for council to resume the budget debate at its Jan. 3 citizens night meeting.

neigh_east

Annie Siebert: asiebert@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1613. Twitter: @AnnieSiebert.


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