Brackenridge nixes property tax increase
By Tom Yerace
Published: Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2012, 12:21 a.m.
An 8.6 percent property tax increase Brackenridge residents were facing apparently will not occur.
Instead, however, residents may be paying an additional $1.10 per quarter to the borough for water at the 4,000-gallon minimum.
Borough Secretary Denise Tocco said the borough approved a preliminary budget Nov. 19 that called for real estate taxes to rise a half-mill, from 5.77 mills to 6.27 mills. But she said that was done with the intent of revisiting other budgetary options and council has held budget sessions the past three weeks, including one on Monday.
Tocco said an increase in water rates was discussed but there were several numbers discussed with no decision made.
Councilman Bill Beale, the finance committee chairman, said the tax increase has been abandoned. Council President Bob Kemmery did not return a message from the Valley News Dispatch seeking comment for this story.
“What the plan was instead of raising taxes, we haven't raised water rates since 2004,” Beale said. “So, what we're doing is increasing the water rate by $1.10 for the minimum for a quarter.”
Instead of $26.68 for the 4,000-gallon quarterly minimum, residents will now pay $27.78 for the same amount, once the final budget is approved and that change is included. That's a 4 percent increase.
He said it is expected to raise about $68,000 per year.
Beale said council had to raise additional revenue some way because it was looking at a deficit of as much as $70,000 at one point. He said it will necessitate a transfer of about $50,000 from the water fund to the general fund.
“We still have a lot of money in the water fund that would cover us if we would have a major break,” he said. “This is something that can't be done every year. It is a one-time shot.”
Beale also said council wanted to establish a fund to cover capital improvements and equipment needs. Out of that rate increase, the borough intends to put 10 cents into the fund, which amounts to 9 percent, or $6,120 per year.
According to Beale, that would help pay for items such as a dump truck for the water department. The water department shares the borough's only dump truck with the street department.
He said if it snows and a water main breaks, the truck would have to be pulled away from salting the streets to work on the break; borough officials would then have to hire a contractor to salt and plow.
There is a possibility the borough could raise additional revenue depending upon what it does with commercial water rates.
“We haven't factored in commercial rates yet because there are so many different size meters,” Beale said. ”We want to increase the commercial customers because they get a better rate but, of course, they use more water.
“But, we don't want to ‘kill' them with an increase. We want to keep the commercial rate in line with everybody else.”
Beale said the $50,000 transfer from the water fund was needed even though cuts were made in items such as office supplies, fuel and police overtime.
The borough found itself in such a deficit situation for several reasons, Beale said. He said hiring a fifth full-time police officer was one.
“This fifth officer really hurt us because we had to come up with $55,000 that we didn't have budgeted,” Beale said, referring to salary and benefits. “Even though you've got the money to pay his wages, you have to figure in his workmen's comp. (Council) wasn't used to that, and they were caught off guard.”
A second reason was the $23,000 to $25,000 in unfunded police pension costs that the borough has to pay.
The third was a $10,000 increase in workmen's compensation insurance payments due not only to the new full-time officer but also all the hours worked by part-time officers because of traffic issues from the ATI-Allegheny Ludlum construction project.
Fees paid to new Solicitor Craig Alexander was a fourth reason, Beale said. He said Alexander's fees totaled $30,000 — $17,000 more than the previous solicitor earned and money that was not included in the budget.
Although a tax increase is dead for next year, 2014 may be another story.
“We possibly may have a tax increase the year after, depending on how this works out,” Beale said.
Tom Yerace is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-226-4675 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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