Ross looks for ways to pay for big projects in 2014 budget

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Ross commissioners will have to decide whether to raise taxes, dip into savings or borrow money to pay for three big-ticket items that are causing the 2014 budget to run into the red.

After two hours of discussion with department heads Monday, commissioners were able to identify $100,000 in potential cuts, from a nearly $800,000 deficit.

The proposed general fund budget is $17.1 million.

Ross must replace its public works garage, which is being shored up temporarily. It is estimated a new building will cost more than $340,000. Another $340,000 is needed to correct problems in heating, ventilation and air conditioning in the municipal/community building, and $100,000 is needed to finish the comprehensive plan.

Commissioners debated whether to float a bond issue or borrow money for those projects. The township has one outstanding bond, which is eligible to be refinanced in December 2014.

Also possible is tapping into savings. The township has a $5 million fund balance.

"I hate to tell the taxpayers that we don't have money in our budget when we are looking at a $5 million fund balance," said Commissioner Dan DeMarco. "Why don't we talk about refunding the taxpayers some money?"

The heads of the police, public works, parks and planning offices each discussed the wants and needs of their departments' budgets and what, if anything, they were willing to give up.

Approximately $56,000 was cut by eliminating purchase of one new vehicle and miscellaneous expenses in the police and public works departments.

The police department, for example, wanted to purchase an intercom system for $7,500 because officers cannot use their radios in the station. The intercom would be needed if there was ever a lock-down type emergency in the building, said police Chief Robert Bellan .

Remaining in the budget for now is expanding traffic cameras north on McKnight Road. The current cameras, purchased with a grant through the Allegheny County district attorney's office, stop at the intersection with Seibert Road.

"We've had some pretty high-profile cases where those cameras have played a part," Mr. Bellan said. "The desire is to continue to build out the system to move it north."

The department also will add to its fleet of bicycles. Under questioning by commissioners, Mr. Bellan said he was skeptical of the bicycle patrols at first, but was won over when he saw the reaction of residents.

"We've used them in neighborhoods where there have been problems. These officers, they are talking to the residents. People can see them," he said. "It's a fantastic tool."

Officers also use the bicycles to negotiate mall parking lots in December, when the lots are jammed with cars.

"You guys know how difficult is it to move in your car at Ross Park Mall," he said. "The guys are out on their bikes."

The public works department wants to purchase a thermoplastic line painter for $15,000, which will allow painted lines to dry faster and last longer.

Public Works superintendent Mike Funk said the lines painted with the current sprayer can take hours to dry if the weather conditions aren't exactly right, and lines have to be repainted every year. Lines painted with a thermoplastic unit dry within two minutes and can last three or four years.

"It will save money in the future," he said.

Mr. Funk said he wants to replace two salt trucks, but only replace two of three employees who left the department.

Parks and Recreation director Eloise Peet said a grant was received to rehabilitate Evergreen Park, so commissioners will have to decide if they want to proceed with the project.

The $74,250 grant would add parking, disability access and trail rehabilitation. The township would have to match the amount, but half of the match could be employee labor, said manager Doug Sample. Residents have protested one part of the proposed project -- installing disc golf on the trail.

Commissioners had a lengthy discussion about the cost of providing a bus to take senior citizens to grocery stores or shopping centers. The service costs Ross $6,750 per month, but residents take only 30 trips per month.

Mr. DeMarco said they need to advertise the service better, to get more residents to use it, or renegotiate the terms of the contract.

"I want the service," he said. "But we're getting ripped off."

Commissioners also will consider drafting an ordinance allowing water shutoffs for delinquent water and sewer bills. There are more than $1 million in outstanding sewer bills.

The township also will save approximately $33,000 because newly elected commissioners Steve Korbel and Jeremy Shaffer have said they will not take the township-paid health insurance given to commissioners. And, at least one person applying to fill Gerald O'Brien's term has also said that he will not take the health insurance, said Commissioner Peter Ferraro.

Sandy Trozzo, freelance writer:

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