Monessen posts budget plan, dodges tax hike
Monessen city council unanimously agreed to post a tentative budget that would not require a property tax increase.
The preliminary spending plan calls for revenue and expenditures totalling $4,562,069. If approved unchanged, millage would remain at 35.85 mills.
The final budget is expected to be approved Dec. 19.
The general budget was cut by an amount equal to 1.45 mills in tax revenue. The money was added to debt service, which was increased from 5.7 mills to 7.15 mills. City clerk Rosalie Nicksich said one mill in property tax revenue generates about $60,000.
“We maintained our budget with no increase in taxes,” Councilwoman Lucille D'Alfonso said. “We did have to make some serious cuts, though.”
The general fund budget was cut by 1.15 mills, the library fund was cut by .05 mills, and the parks and recreation fund was decreased from 4.25 mills to 4 mills.
“By adding that 1.45 mills, we were able to meet our debt service without increasing taxes,” D'Alfonso added.
The budget did not include money for two current part-time positions, one each from code enforcement and street departments.
“We had to do some things with a lot of the departments. We ended up laying off two part-time workers,” Mayor Mary Jo Smith said.
“I don't like to cut anybody, but I'll cut my part-time people before I cut my full-time people. That balanced the line items in that area.
“The police department, by hiring people for prisoner watch, I can pay them $9.25 per hour instead of paying a lieutenant time and a half to come in and watch the prisoners.”
Prisoner watch employees oversee people being held in the city lockup.
“I'd like to thank council for the time that they put in to balance this budget,” Smith said. “We had to make deep cuts, and had to do some things that we didn't want to do.”
Smith commended council members and city administrators who agreed to donate their monthly stipends to the city to allow for the purchase of a police car.
“We need to budget a police car every year. They're doing about 345 miles per day,” she said, citing wear and tear and repairs. “We decided to ask everyone if they wanted to donate their stipends back. There was no pressure on anyone to do so.”
Council members Bill Manus, Dr. Martin Dudas and D'Alfonso and city Controller Wayne Vlasic joined Smith in donating their salaries.
Manus said he was glad to make his donation.
“I'm a servant of the people,” Manus said. “I'm not in it for the money.”
In other business, the mayor announced board appointments.
Marc D. Bellora, Kathleen Harhai, and Virginia Monaghan were appointed to the Monessen Public Library Board for three-year terms effective Jan. 1.
George Shusta was named to the Zoning Board of Appeals and Paul Berardellli was appointed to the Mon Valley Sewage Authority Board. Both are filling the unexpired terms of Manus, who joined council after Gerald Saksun left council to become city treasurer.
Saksun replaced former Treasurer Frank Rizzuto, who resigned amid allegations of financial improprieties.
Joseph Minno was reappointed to the Monessen Redevelopment Authority for a five-year term, effective Dec. 1.
Solicitor Mark Shire, based on a council directive, has filed a lawsuit against three trustees of the Miller Property Trust. The Georgia company owns 500 Donner Ave., the former Health-Mart building.Shire said that during a hearing before Magisterial District Judge Joseph Dalfonso, the property manager was found guilty of multiple code violations and has 30 days to appeal the decision.
“The significant part of the hearing was that we were able to get information on the owner, which is the Miller Property Trust,” Shire said.
“Many thousands of dollars of unpaid taxes have accrued on the property, which was subjected to sheriff's sale but was not sold.
“We learned that there are three trustees of this trust and they do have other assets in the state of Georgia. In the lawsuit, we're looking to compel this trust to either demolish the building or to pay damages to the city for the cost of not only the taxes but the cost to demolish the building.”
Shire said the goal is to collect $55,000 in unpaid taxes and the cost of demolition.
City Administrator John Harhai said the property is valued at $49,000.
Council approved a two-year contract with Moran's Midnight Kennels Inc. that will allow the company to continue to provide dog law enforcement services.
Jeremy Sellew is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 724-684-2667.