North Huntingdon's odd problem: 'too much money'
In North Huntingdon, a rosy — perhaps enviable — financial picture has emerged: Township leaders are considering cutting taxes, paying off debt and paving more roads.
“We just have too much money,” said township Commissioner Lee Moffatt, president of the board, referring to the $7 million in reserve. The township's proposed budget for 2013 is about $14 million.
Moffatt last month called for a 1-mill property tax cut, a seldom-heard proposal at municipal meetings.
“(A tax cut) is pretty rare,” said Yvonne Hayes, director of Westmoreland County's tax office. “They usually don't cut ever, and there's very few that did. And if they do, it's probably a half-mill or a mill.”
During the past five years in Westmoreland County, 62 tax increases and six decreases were recorded, among 65 total municipalities, according to county data.
In five of those six instances — in Murrysville, Allegheny Township, Manor and twice in Trafford — cuts amounted to a half-mill or less. In the other, Monessen, officials cut taxes by 2.2 mills in 2010, but the city clerk attributed that to normalizing figures after officials petitioned the court the year before for a one-year tax hike.
“I know it's unusual,” Moffatt said about the proposed cut, “but I think it's just time.”
He's cited concerns about “building up this reserve fund on the backs of (taxpayers)” and said the township could cut taxes and still balance the budget.
Commissioners will discuss the budget during their November meeting. If they approve the 1-mill cut, real estate taxes would drop to 11.55 mills, saving the average homeowner $25 to $30 on a home assessment between $25,000 and $30,000.
In North Huntingdon, 1 mill in property tax generates $350,000.
“This is good financial management, stewardship. It's planning ahead,” Michael Foreman, a local government policy specialist in the Pittsburgh office of the Center for Local Government Services, said about paring taxes. The center is part of the state Department of Community and Economic Development.
“They've got a growing tax base,” Foreman said, “It's exemplary when a municipality is in a position to cut any tax rate.”
Residential development has boosted transfer tax and real estate transaction fees to North Huntingdon, Moffatt said. In addition, the township is collecting more delinquent taxes than expected and spending less than anticipated.
“When we do our budget, it's usually you underestimate the revenue and overestimate your expenses just to make sure you're OK,” Moffatt said. “It's the prudent way to do it.”
But the township has more money coming in and less going out.
“You kind of see it on both ends — on the revenue end and on the expenditure side,” township manager John Shepherd said. The money has been “building up over the years,” he said.
The reserve fund amounts to more than half the general operating budget, Moffatt said.
“Traditionally ... you have ‘X' amount coming, and you're spending ‘X' amount,” he said. “The budget essentially is supposed to be balanced and be as close as you can.”
He said he does not want to spend down the reserve just to clear the money.
“It seems like the more money you have ... the more money you spend, and once you get used to spending a certain level, whether it's a municipality, a government or a person, it's hard to go backward — extremely hard,” Moffatt said. “So that's what I'm trying to avoid.”
Industry standards dictate maintaining a reserve fund of 5 percent to 10 percent of the total operating budget, Foreman said.
North Huntingdon officials have talked about instating guidelines for the surplus, Moffatt said, noting that the township could keep 25 percent to 35 percent in reserve.
Foreman said municipal elections are approaching, and the public may enjoy a tax cut.
Moffatt said the tax cut proposal has nothing to do with re-election and that the numbers “speak for themselves.”
“It'll play out to prove that I am not doing this to get re-elected,” he said. “I'm just doing this to do what's right. There's no political considerations in this at all.”
Rossilynne Skena is a staff writerfor Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-836-6646 or email@example.com.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Flyers continue mastery of Penguins at Consol
- Pitt offense eyes healthy balance
- NFL notebook: Goodell must testify at Rice appeal
- Gorman: A WPIAL playoff drought about to end
- High school roundup: Canon-Mac girls down Peters Twp. in shootout
- Penn State defense returns to familiar spot atop Big Ten Conference
- Motorist in Downtown mishap, passenger arrested on drug charges
- Through the years, Rogers keeps his focus on entertaining
- WPIAL, coaches are still looking to schedule Week 9 rivalry games
- Security at Capitol questioned
- Penn-Trafford’s Mastrogiacomo scores in OT to secure win