Oakmont overcomes sticking points, passes budget with no tax increase
Increasing taxes for 2014 was not an issue in Oakmont Council's budget maneuvering on Monday but there were several others.
Council approved, on its first reading, a $3.69 million budget for 2014 that holds taxes at 3.4 mills. Final approval of the budget will happen at a special meeting at 7 p.m. Dec. 30.
Although council, with the exception of Ronald Scott who was excused because of illness, approved the plan unanimously, clearing some final obstacles was not as easy.
The first hurdle was deciding on who would handle the sewage billing for the borough — either Oakmont's municipal authority or borough-based Pennsylvania Municipal Services (PAMS). Council had proposed a one-year contract to have the municipal authority continue billing for sewage, for which it paid about $43,000 last year. However, the authority, wanting a longer contract, turned it down and the borough sought other proposals.
PAMS proposed a three-year contract at a cost of a little less than $17,000 a year, a savings of about $26,000 to the borough.
While that kind of savings would seem too good to pass up, the fees put on delinquent bills by PAMS made some council members balk at the deal.
According to Assistant Borough Manager Ryan Jeroski, the borough compiled a comparison using a “midpoint” figure of 455 delinquents for 2013 since the number of delinquents fluctuates. Based on that number, the municipal authority charged about $5,600 in fees on those who did not pay or were slow in paying their sewage/garbage bill. With PAMS, that figure would be more than ten times greater, about $68,500.
“I'm not particularly comfortable with the cost shift,” council President Tim Milberger said in explaining why he would vote against the PAMS contract.He said he feared that those fees might prove to be too much of a hardship for some borough residents.
But Councilman Tim Favo said, aside from the savings to the borough, the PAMS contract puts the cost of delinquencies where it should be, on the delinquents.
“I view that as our fiduciary responsibility of getting the best service at the best price,” Favo said.
The vote on the contract came to a deadlock with Favo, Thomas Briney and Elena Colianni voting for it while Milberger, Nancy Ride and Laurie Saxon voted against. That left it up to Mayor Bob Fescemyer to break the tie, and he voted in favor of the PAMS contract.
Fescemyer also figured into the discussion of allocating more money to pay part-time police officers.
Borough Manager Lisa Cooper Jensen said that basing wages on the use of at least one part-time officer per shift, the total wage figure came to $142,000.
Fescemyer and police Chief David DiSanti argued that wasn't enough. DiSanti said Cooper Jensen's calculations did not allow enough money in using part-timers to cover full shifts for full-time officers who are sick or have to be in court.
“You are leaving no cushion at all,” DiSanti said. “I respectfully request $150,000. I think that would cover whatever we need in the police department.”
Fescemyer, a former police officer who oversees the department as mayor, said, “We need to look at the manpower we need to keep the citizens of this borough safe, and that's all we're asking for.”
But council members said costs needed to be kept under control and police costs had escalated in recent years. They pointed out that $110,000 was budgeted for part-timers in 2012 but $129,000 actually spent, and $140,000 was budgeted in 2013.
Council settled on the original 2014 figure of $142,000.
The other major debate was where to come up with a payment for next year toward the $100,000 fire truck contribution the fire department had asked council for in November. The new engine was projected to cost $480,000, but Cooper Jensen said the fire officials informed her that the truck may cost less than that and revised the needed contribution from council to $90,000.
Council had budgeted $33,000 toward the truck out of the expected 2013 budget surplus but had trouble coming to an agreement on budgeting more for a 2014 allocation.
Ride said she felt strongly that council needed to make an allocation to move the truck acquisition forward, but Favo argued that council should wait and see if the fire department gets the federal grant it has to have to buy the truck.
Finally, council agreed to allocate $17,500 by taking $14,500 from the parks budget for electrical work that had been paid for out of the general fund and reducing the allocation for a Civil Service Commission solicitor from $8,000 to $5,000.
Tom Yerace is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-226-4675 or firstname.lastname@example.org.