Mayor turns public comment on Penn Hills budget into debate
Ten out of roughly 100 Penn Hills residents spoke during a lengthy budget hearing Monday, but many who were there left before it ended.
Some who stayed for more than two hours said more would have been able to talk if Mayor Sara Kuhn hadn't slowed things down.
"I was surprised to hear the mayor make a comment on everything after people spoke," Faith Milazzo said. "I feel the mayor should be open and receptive to suggestions. I don't think she was."
Milazzo was one of the residents who offered suggestions on ways to avoid Manager Mohammed Rayan's dire prediction in his draft budget that said unless tax revenues are increased in 2019, it "will be the beginning of a downward slide."
Packed house tonight at Penn Hills' first budget hearing. Watch for story. pic.twitter.com/h5G08aTymz— Dillon Garrett Carr (@dillonswriting) December 5, 2017
Milazzo and others who spoke suggested, in part, the following:
• Cut nonessential personnel
• Freeze municipal employee wages
• Install solar panels on municipal buildings
• Have residents pay for garbage pickup service
• Develop property along the Allegheny River
• Hire a full-time grant writer
• Renegotiate sewage rates with Allegheny County Sanitary Authority
But nearly half of the residents left before the meeting ended. One of them was Councilman-elect John Petrucci, who said he expected the mayor and council to gather as much public comment as possible and hold their views about the suggestions until the board's Dec. 18 meeting. Instead, he found Kuhn addressing the merits of what each resident suggested.
"I'm a little disappointed we didn't get more people involved that wanted to get involved on how they could help the community," Petrucci said. Before leaving, he read a prepared statement in which he offered several suggestions, including cutting nonessential personnel.
To start the meeting, Kuhn said she and council members would not comment during the public hearing. Council members kept their end of that deal, but Kuhn commented after every resident spoke and got in a heated exchange with resident Andrea Getsy while she was talking.
"I feel that you're becoming very hostile. I think that these recommendations were very ..." Getsy said before being interrupted by Kuhn.
"Recommendations are what we want," Kuhn said. "And solutions. That's what I've asked for, Mrs. Getsy."
Getsy replied: "That's what I've heard."
"But … some of the comments and solutions that were given were not actually a reality," Kuhn said.
The 2018 spending plan includes $57.4 million in expenditures and $60.5 million in revenues, with a year-end balance of $3.1 million. The budget keeps the tax rate at 5.44 mills and includes 2 to 3 percent wage increases for municipal employees.
When asked how she will work to avoid the manager's predicted "downward slide" in 2019, Kuhn said she does not know but that she is not in favor of a tax increase or cutting services.
Kuhn said she will look into every suggestion made to council and will address them during the Dec. 18 meeting, which will allow time for additional public comment about the budget.
"We all have to work together to figure out what our options are," Kuhn said after the meeting.
Dillon Carr is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-871-2325, firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @dillonswriting.