$37.7 million Upper St. Clair budget has no tax increases in 2014

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Upper St. Clair residents will continue to see the same level of maintenance, safety and public services next year with no tax increase.

Commissioners unanimously passed a $37.7 million spending plan Monday that calls for no major cuts in programs or services.

The real estate tax rate of 3.83 mills won't be increased, nor will the 0.8 percent earned income tax and an annual local services tax of $52.

After next year, earned income rates are expected to rise about 3 percent over the next five years.

However, sanitary sewer rates, set by the Allegheny County Sanitary Authority, are expected to jump by as much as 17 percent next year.

The township's finance department was lauded by commissioners, who insisted on no tax increase.

"You worked together to keep taxes steady," Chairman Commissioner Robert Orchowski told administrators.

The budget is a 1.29 percent increase over this year, which is about half the rate of inflation, and includes $6.3 million in spending for recreation, followed by public works, with expenditures of $5.9 million, and public safety, pegged at about $5 million.

The township has been able to decrease debt service spending by 1.3 percent due to refinancing a 2008 bond last year, and pension funding for township police and public works employees is expected to dip by 7.7 percent next year.

Health insurance costs are on tap to increase 5 percent next year, while revenues from the community recreation center are expected to rise by 2.5 percent with no membership fee increases planned.

Operating expenses at the center are expected to be unchanged from this year, and the center has been successful in attracting more outside members with 33 percent nonresident members.

About $4 million is being set aside for capital projects next year, while the fund balance will be set at $3.3 million -- or about 17 percent of the annual budget.

Also Monday, commissioners:

* Approved a new zoning district to accommodate the Siena at St. Clair development at Route 19 and Fort Couch Road.

The 26-acre tract was changed from a special business district to special business and mixed-use district, a new zoning designation. The change was spawned by a lawsuit brought by residents who claimed that a text amendment in the special business district constituted a map change and thus a zoning change.

The development would still include a Whole Foods grocer, along with several restaurants, offices, retail shops and 33 housing units.

The developer is expected to seek a conditional use approval soon to begin construction.

* Voted for a new, five-year trash and recycling contract with Waste Management that would use new, automated recycling bins. Each household will receive a 65-gallon wheeled cart to hold unsorted recyclables of all kinds.

Though more expensive in the first few years, the automated collection is expected to increase recycling by as much as 50 percent, thus lowering the township's cost for trash disposal in the next contract.

The contract cost is $1.15 million next year and continues rising, up to $1.27 million in 2018, for a total contract of $6.03 million.

Neighboring Peters and Scott approved the automated option, and northern municipalities, including Ross and Shaler, have said they've seen dramatic increases in recycling and less garbage since using the automated system in recent years. Automated collection uses a truck with arms that pick up the cans at the curb, while traditional collection involves workers who empty the smaller containers by hand.

* Heard from resident Jeff Wallace, who complained that the township Athletic Association was a closed group with no transparency. He said the group, which operates concession stands at township athletic fields to raise funds, should be forced to open its books for inspection and hold public meetings with minutes.

Mr. Orchowski asked Mr. Wallace to put his concerns in writing, but Commissioner Russell Del Re wasn't as accommodating.

"These people are all volunteers," Mr. Del Re said. "I think your comments are ridiculous."

* Approved an amended final plan for the Bedner Farms Estates plan bordering Bridgeville. The amended plan splits the first construction phase into two plans. The first will include partial completion of Scarlet Drive and construction of 35 homes in Diamond and Sapphire courts. Next year, the second part of phase one will involve building 21 homes and finishing roadways.

Bridgeville residents concerned about the development and its access to Main Street in Bridgeville, said they hope the township will work with the borough to ease traffic in the already congested neighborhoods.

Bridgeville Mayor-elect Pasquale DiBlasio asked the township to intervene on the borough's behalf with Allegheny County when he requests a stacking lane for Bower Hill Road to be built.

"If we ask together, maybe they'll help us," he said. "That's all we're looking for."

Janice Crompton: jcrompton@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1159.

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