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No tax increase in proposed Irwin budget

| Wednesday, Nov. 27, 2013, 3:30 p.m.

Money originally slated to go to the historic Lamp Theatre in Irwin instead was shuffled to the borough's volunteer fire department.

The change is part of the proposed $5 million budget for Irwin borough. Council must adopt a final budget by the end of the year.

The proposed budget does not include an increase in the property-tax rate, although it is projected that there will be more spending next year compared to this year, said Mary Benko, borough manager.

The proposed budget is just over $5.7 million, which 16 percent more than the 2013 budget of $4.9 million.

In lieu of raising the tax rate, Benko said, she was able to balance the budget with general increases in revenue and cuts in spending.

“This council is very fiscally responsible, and they've watched the expenses over the years,” she said.

The major changes in the borough budget focus on public-safety funding. They include redirecting money from the Lamp Theatre project to the Irwin Volunteer Fire Department and adding a category so the police department will have a fund for grants.

The original proposal called for a $20,000 donation to the theater from the borough's capital-reserve fund. Council, however, changed that figure to $5,000 and made a $15,000 donation to the fire department.

Irwin council purchased the blighted theater building from the Westmoreland Cultural Trust for $1 in March. As part of the agreement, council also authorized a line of credit through S&T Bank of up to $125,000, with a 3.25 percent interest rate to fund a portion of the theater's remodeling costs.

The line of credit, coupled with $70,000 raised by the Relight the Lamp committee, which is part of the Irwin Business & Professionals Association, would cover the borough's portion of the estimated $650,000 needed to refurbish the theater, located on Main Street.

The borough and trust's plan to remodel the theater called for Irwin to contribute $150,000, while the state and Westmoreland County Department of Community and Economic Development plan to contribute the remaining $500,000 for the project.

Earlier this year, the borough made a $20,000 donation to the theater.

Council members Bob Wayman and Peggie Watson proposed redirecting funding from the Lamp Theatre to the volunteer fire department.

“Is this an ongoing, eternal transfer? Meaning, is there no end, ever?,” Wayman said. “In light of our concerns with the funding of our police department, my concern would be whether or not the use of $20,000 to remodel a movie theater should be of a higher importance than public safety.”

Council would have the ability to close funding gaps on the project if emergency expenses come up, Wayman said.

“In the event that the Lamp Theatre does need more money down the road in 2014 for some reason, we can always remove money for the capital reserve fund and pay it to them,” he said. “It doesn't necessarily have to be in the budget.”

Watson suggested using that money to make a donation to the borough's fire department. Council agreed to donate $15,000 to the department.

“I would like to see that the firemen get (a donation) since they're looking at new equipment, and they're also public safety,” she said.

Regarding the new grant category for his department, police Chief Roger Pivirotto said he does not have a specific grant in mind but likely will apply for traffic-enforcement grants.

Pivirotto, a former state police lieutenant, was hired to lead the borough's police department in October. Among his credentials, Pivirotto worked for state police for 25 years, was a member of the Special Emergency Response tactical team and trained with the FBI.

Irwin officials are scheduled to meet Dec. 11 to approve the final budget.

Amanda Dolasinski is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-856-7400, ext. 8626 or adolasinski@tribweb.com.

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