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Elizabeth Township OKs lower tax rate

| Tuesday, Dec. 17, 2013, 2:06 a.m.

Elizabeth Township commissioners have adopted a 2014 budget that is more than $1 million higher than 2013's spending plan, but has a slightly lower tax rate.

Commissioners unanimously adopted the $5.52 million budget and fixed the tax rate at 3.926 mills during Monday's meeting. As with 2013's spending plan, the newly approved budget includes a 0.5-mill fire tax.

The 2013 budget was $4.47 million, with millage set at 3.929.

Briefly discussed at the meeting was the situation surrounding township police officer Jamie Evans, who could lose his job if he doesn't resign from the Elizabeth Forward school board, to which he was elected in November.

State Rep. Rick Saccone, R-Elizabeth Township, successfully pushed an amendment through the General Assembly last month allowing police officers in first-class townships such as Elizabeth Township to serve as school board members of districts within second-class counties like Allegheny. But the commissioners tabled a motion earlier this month to amend the Civil Service rules to reflect the change in the law. Earlier this month, commissioners authorized the law firm of Campbell, Durrant, Beatty, Palombo & Miller, P.C., to file a lawsuit on behalf of the township seeking a declaration that the amendment is special legislation and therefore unconstitutional.

Evans' mother, Melanie Ponist, asked to know the status of her son's future standing with the department.

“Is my son keeping his job or is he not?” she asked. “Because, for two months, nothing but mental anguish and stress has been brought on this family and I don't want to live another night not knowing if my son is still holding his position.”

Board president Gene Francesconi said he wouldn't comment on any personnel action during a public meeting but revealed that there's no current progress on the lawsuit as the law firm looks into it further.

“At this point, the firm is required to do due diligence and inform us of what it could potentially cost,” Francesconi said. “And right now, I don't know what it could potentially cost.”

Commissioner Donald Similo said, “If it's a dollar, it's too much.”

Earlier this month, Similo and commissioners Joanne Beckowitz and Robert Thomas voted against pursuing any action against Evans or the state.

“We're challenging a law?” Similo asked on Monday. “This crazy thing could take us five years and go all the way to the Supreme Court. Why are we doing it?”

Francesconi didn't supply an answer.

But Ponist said she won't let the issue rest anytime soon.

“As a mother, I will be relentless,” she said. “If it be a whole investigation of the school board and the commissioners, (I'll do) whatever it takes.”

The meeting was the last for longtime commissioners Larry Vota and Robert Thomas. Vota did not seek re-election and Thomas lost his seat to redistricting.

Thomas said, “I hope the people felt a reasonable amount of support from me, because I have felt a great amount of support from them.”

Vota, current board vice president, was emotional as he echoed Thomas' sentiment.

“This is a great place to live,” Vota said. “It's easy living and I don't plan to leave.”

Tim Karan is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1970, or