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Monroeville Council to consider tweaking tax hike

| Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2013, 5:36 p.m.

Monroeville Council is scheduled to meet next week to discuss a real estate tax increase slightly higher than the 0.5 millage rate increase that officials approved Jan. 8.

If approved, the higher tax rate would result in a 0.547 millage increase — and an overall 2.43 millage rate — for Monroeville property owners in 2013.

The tax hike would translate to an extra $55 in taxes for a Monroeville home assessed at $100,000. The tax bill for a $100,000 assessment would be about $245.

Because of the countywide reassessment effort of 2012, a tax hike will require approval from an Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas judge. Monroeville Solicitor Bruce Dice predicts that a judge will approve the request.

“The courts are going to be looking at, I believe, what's the need for the tax increase,” Dice said.

“I don't envision the court taking extreme scrutiny of that if (municipal administrators) come in and say, ‘we need ‘x' amount of dollars so we can keep the (municipal) services we still have.”

Two council members last week voted in favor of eliminating a municipal service, regardless of a future decision by a judge.

Council members Lois Drumheller and Bernhard Erb voted to eliminate the Monroeville emergency dispatch center after Erb delivered a number of arguments that suggested the county dispatch center is a better option for Monroeville residents.

According to Erb's report, the move would save the municipality more than $500,000 in 2013, improve home insurance rates for Monroeville residents and eliminate a practice called “stacking,” which delays response times. He said many of the dispatchers are volunteer firefighters in training and, in at least one case, have taken instruction from their fire chief during an emergency call rather than the emergency responder on site.

However, Chief Ron Harvey of Monroeville Fire Company No. 5 has said that callers sometimes are forced to hold for a dispatcher at the county level, or if there‘s a citywide emergency such as a blizzard, callers sometimes will get an answering machine. Chief Harold Katofsky, of Monroeville Fire Company No. 6, told council at the Jan. 3 meeting that he doesn't trust county-level dispatch centers, referencing a service disruption at the Westmoreland County Dispatch Center in 2012.

Monroeville fire chiefs agreed to cut $100,000 from municipal funds they would receive in 2013, on the condition that the Monroeville dispatch center stays open.

Erb said the $100,000 isn't worth what the municipality could save by closing the dispatch center.

“You go and ask them for money, and they come back and they give you a paltry $100,000 ... and we accept it?” Erb said.

Drumheller, Erb and Councilwoman Diane Allison also voted to outsource local service tax and delinquent earned income tax, which would mean laying off an employee in the tax office. The finance department calculated that the move would save the municipality about $65,000, Silka said.

Tax Collector Pat Fulkerson presented numbers to council that conflicted with the savings presented by administrators. He said the municipality would not save nearly as much as initially reported and that the move is not worth the loss of an employee, whom, he says, performs other duties in the tax office.

Monroeville manager Jeff Silka said after the meeting that he doubts the validity of the figures presented by Fulkerson.

On the same night Fulkerson argued in favor of maintaining his current staff, he responded publicly to an email he said he received from Silka. He said the email instructed him to brief Silka on his presentation prior to the Jan. 8 meeting to “avoid an insubordination conversation in the morning,” Fulkerson said.

Fulkerson said he does not report to the manager on the issue referenced in the email, but instead council.

“Let's make this all clear now. I am an elected officer in Monroeville. I report to council and only council. I expect a little apology tomorrow, on this.”

“We'll clear this up later, but this isn't the time or the place,” Silka replied.

Kyle Lawson is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-856-7400, ext. 8755, or klawson@tribweb.com.

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