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Elizabeth Township affirms vote on dissolving sewer authority

| Tuesday, April 23, 2013, 4:21 a.m.

By the same 4-3 split that happened in a preliminary vote two weeks ago, the Elizabeth Township board of commissioners on Monday finalized an ordinance calling on the township sanitary authority to dissolve.

The board voted 7-0 to cut the township real estate tax rate by 0.503 mills without lowering the rate of the levy covering fire services.

Again in favor of abolishing the Elizabeth Township Sanitary Authority were commissioners president Gene Francesconi and Commissioners J. Larry Vota, Claire Bryce and Chris Evans.

Commissioners Joanne Beckowitz, Donald R. Similo and Robert D. Thomas voted no.

“It should be tabled until we find out how much it is going to cost,” Beckowitz said.

Resident Emil Surak said Francesconi hadn't explained why the authority should be dissolved, despite the board president's defense at a special meeting two weeks ago.

“The majority might be liable for surcharges,” Surak said, urging the naysaying trio to retain their own lawyer.

On April 10, the authority authorized its lawyer Thomas Barry to counter what Barry called “an illegal act” by the township.

Francesconi and Bryce cited a $1 million host fee that Municipal Authority of the City of McKeesport is paying to the city.

The township's system is tied in to MACM and Bryce said it is why sewer rates will rise by $1.75 per 1,000 gallons in July and again in January.

Earlier, MACM board president Nick Shermenti said a surplus allowed his panel to pay the fee, and that rate hikes are needed for improvements required under state Act 537.

Bonds are being used to cover the improvements. Francesconi challenged the township authority's bond issues since 2009.

“We're looking at $43 million and not one shovel full of dirt,” Francesconi said, referring to indebtedness approved for a pumping station that is planned but not yet built near the soccer fields in Boston.

The commissioners are looking at township property values set by Allegheny County.

“We will be reducing the millage a slight bit,” solicitor Patricia McGrail said of a general fund reduction from 3.929 to 3.426 mills. Each mill nets about $500,000.

McGrail wanted the fire service tax rate cut to 0.427 mills, but it was held at 0.5 mills.

“I think it should stay the same,” Beckowitz said.

While state law allows a 5 percent windfall revenue hike in the year after a reassessment, McGrail said the township may lose revenue.

In December, officials were told the total reassessed value of properties in the township was $665.76 million, an increase of 22 percent.

“Those numbers have since been revised no less than three times,” McGrail said.

Outstanding appeals could cut the valuation to $645 million.

Tax rates normally are set in December, but because of late county figures and continued appeals, Common Pleas Senior Judge R. Stanton Wettick Jr. allowed municipalities to hold off until bills are to go out.

The board also:

• Approved by the same 4-3 split Ford Business Machines as sole vendor for copiers, in a lease/$1 purchase deal.

• Refunded $150 to vendor Frank Nangle for a permit fee he paid to operate a barbecue at the Central fire hall.

• Tabled a proposal from a private group to set up a memorial at Boston Field to those killed in the War on Terror since Iraq invaded Kuwait.

Bryce said it should be all-inclusive. Organizer David Graham said only one of eight township war memorials mentions post-1990 wars, and that one in Greenock hadn't been updated in 10 years.

Beckowitz said it was a disgrace for the township to allow the closing of the Carnegie Library of McKeesport branch at Central Elementary School.

In its announcement, the library board said the library would return to Elizabeth Township if and when the commissioners find a suitable location and financial assistance.

Patrick Cloonan is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1967, or pcloonan@tribweb.com.

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