Rostraver in black, avoids 2014 tax increase
Rostraver Township will enter 2014 with a surplus and one of its strongest budgets in recent memory.
And the commissioners on Monday stashed away much of the money.
The board passed a budget that will not require a tax increase or service cuts. Expected revenues and expenditures are balanced at $5,095,598.
The real estate tax rate will remain at 15 mills, with one mill generating approximately $154,000 according to Commissioner Brian Sokol, budget and finance committee chairman.
The township will not need a tax anticipation loan to pay its bills while awaiting tax money, he said.
Sokol, Andy Temoshenka, Gary Beck and Pat Egros approved the budget. Commissioner Don Bottman was absent.
“This is a strong budget, and I feel the township is being left in solid financial shape,” said Temoshenka, who did not seek re-election and will leave office Tuesday.
Sokol said the township will end 2013 with a surplus of nearly $400,000. Consequently, the commissioners unanimously agreed Monday to create a reserve fund.
Sokol said that with anticipated revenue of $4,919,659 for 2014, $176,000 of the 2013 surplus will be used to balance the 2014 budget.
Ninety percent of the remaining 2013 surplus – about $200,000 – will go into the fund as insurance against unforeseen expenses, Sokol and Beck indicated.
“We already have a capital fund, and now what we have is a secondary fund for rainy day money,” Sokol said. “If something happens to a building, we can dig in and use some of that money.
“By us creating this, 90 percent of any money we have in line items we didn't spend will automatically go into this reserve fund.”
Sokol said the township was able to finish 2013 in the black, even after reaching four-year contracts earlier this month with the police and street departments. Each has 13 full-time employees, according to Temoshenka.
“Through hard work by the board, we just settled two labor contracts that (maintained) everything they had, so we've cut no services and no benefits and we're continuing to collect surplus money,” Sokol said.
The board raised the amount employees can contribute to their pension plans to 7 percent.
For the second straight year, the budget includes a fire fund of $201,000. The township's fire companies, if they meet certain criteria and have board approval, can obtain money for equipment and operating expenses.
The board reduced the compensation rate police officers to pay into their pension funds in 2014 from 5 percent to zero percent.
“What happened is, their funding is maxed out and nobody has retired. So, basically, they don't need to contribute anything to it,” Sokol said. “This is a good thing for both (sides).”
The board agreed to establish benefits for nonunion employees that are more in line with those of union workers. They include paid vacation, bereavement leave, sick days and dental coverage.
The only thing the board could not agree upon was giving $17,000 in Act 13 money to each of the township's three volunteer fire departments: Rostraver No. 1 (Webster), Rostraver Central and Collinsburg. An additional $2,500 was allocated to Rostraver-West Newton Emergency Medical Services.
Act 13 is money collected by the state through natural gas drilling fees.
The board voted, 3-1, to distribute the money at the Feb. 5 meeting with Sokol, Beck and Egros approving the measure and Temoshenka dissenting.
The action spurred an exchange between Sokol and Temoshenka.
Temoshenka said the money would be better spent on recreation or roads and referred to last year's fire fund account, from which money was allocated on a case-by-case basis.
“There's no time frame for spending that money … and there are other entities you can spend that on other than fire and safety,” Temoshenka said.
“Everybody knows going into January, it's tough for everybody. And come February, it would be nice to offer them assistance,” Sokol said.
“There aren't too many people anymore who get up at 2 in the morning and go into a burning building when it's 35 below zero.”
“My comment on that is we established guidelines for giving that money out, and then we just abolished those guidelines,” Temoshenka said.
“It's a different fund, Andy. This is Act 13 money,” Sokol said. “It's a completely different process.”
“I understand that,” Temoshenka said. “But I think there should be accountability, regardless of where the money comes from.”
Rick Bruni Jr. is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 724-684-2635.