Mt. Lebanon weighs surplus spending
By Matthew Santoni
Published: Wednesday, June 26, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Mt. Lebanon commissioners are considering how to spend an $829,000 surplus from last year's budget, just as representatives of sports groups have asked for upgrades to playing fields.
Sports Advisory Board members on Monday outlined for commissioners improvements that the collection of 13 youth and adult sports and recreation groups requested.
They include structural repairs to platform tennis courts in the community's main park, an electric Zamboni for the ice rink, a pavilion for events at the golf course and artificial turf and lighting on the playing field at Mellon Middle School.
The Youth Sports Association previously sought artificial turf at Wildcat and Middle fields, a pair of adjacent softball and baseball fields in Mt. Lebanon Park off Cedar Boulevard, said non-voting advisory board member David Franklin.
Advocates hoped turf would make the fields available for more sports and would absorb more wear and tear than natural grass, but they never got support from a majority of commissioners. The sports groups next turned to Mellon, off Washington Road and Castle Shannon Boulevard, Franklin said.
“Given the sense among the board about which asset needs it the most, we believe that Mellon really is in line to be improved with artificial surface and lighting,” he said.
Commissioners John Bendel, Dave Brumfield and Kristen Linfante — a majority of the five-member panel — later voiced support for putting some of the money toward the advisory board's recommendations, though Kelly Fraasch and Matt Kluck had reservations about doing so without a clear plan for the improvements.
Bendel, liaison to the sports advisory board, said he supported spending $30,000 of the surplus on improving the police department's radio communications. Police Chief Coleman McDonough said there has been bad reception in parts of the public safety building after the Federal Communications Commission required emergency personnel to use different bandwidths for their radios.
Bendel said he wanted another $87,400 for a mid-block crosswalk along Washington Road, $75,000 to study development above the Mt. Lebanon light-rail station and tracks and the remainder of the surplus on field enhancements, including turf at Mellon or Middle/Wildcat.
He later said adding turf and lighting to a field would require financial contributions from the school district and sports groups.
“The amount we're talking about is not enough to complete the project, and that needs to be filled by somebody,” Bendel said.
“I'm with John on putting the rest toward fields,” Brumfield said. “The intent is to hold these other funds to see if a plan comes up to improve the field situation.”
But Fraasch and Kluck, the commission president, disagreed.
The municipality is making up to $200,000 in improvements to turn a baseball/softball field off Brafferton Drive into a field for lacrosse, soccer and football, Fraasch said, and the municipality doesn't know whether the school district would support turf at Mellon.
School board President Elaine Cappucci said the district has no plans to put turf on any fields. “So that would be a new expense. Nobody from the commission has approached us about the proposal. … I can't tell you what the board would feel about it.”
Municipal manager Steve Feller will draw up a new list of projects that could be funded with the surplus, reflecting the ones that had the majority of the commissioners' support.
When the municipality ended 2012 in better financial shape than it expected, the extra money put its cash reserves at 12.3 percent of its expenditures. Normally, 10 percent is kept in reserve.
A public hearing on potential uses for the surplus must be held before commissioners can vote on how to spend it, Feller said.
Matthew Santoni is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5625 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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