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PH Council eyes $28.8M budget, no tax increase

| Wednesday, Dec. 12, 2012, 8:56 p.m.

Penn Hills residents will see a reduction in their millage rate in 2013, but it likely will not result in a lower tax bill.

Penn Hills Municipal Council held a public hearing on the 2013 budget prior to its Dec. 3 meeting.

The proposed millage rate for the coming year is 5.444 mills, about 0.16 mills lower than 2012.

But the rate change is due to uncertainty over reassessment values, which will not be finalized until after the new year.

Senior Common Pleas Judge R. Stanton Wettick indicated that he might grant Allegheny County municipalities and school districts an extension for approving their budgets.

The extension gives county officials more time to provide the most accurate reassessment data, which in turn allows local governments and school districts to set proper property tax rates and approve their 2013 budgets by the state-mandated deadline of Dec. 31.

If Wettick grants the extension, that deadline would shift to Jan. 7.

Council's final vote on the 2013 budget will take place at a Dec. 31 special council meeting.

Penn Hills Municipal Manager Moe Rayan said the millage decrease in the 2013 budget is in anticipation of a roughly 8-percent increase in overall property values.

State law requires an adjustment of millage rates so that new reassessment data does not provide a financial windfall for local governments.

“(The new millage rate) is an approximation,” Rayan said, adding that mayor and council “have the ability to reopen the 2013 budget to make any necessary adjustments” after the final reassessment numbers are in.

In his budget projections, Rayan estimated that the new millage rate will result in one mill generating about $1.44 million, roughly $100,000 more than in 2012, when one mill generated just less than $1.34 million.

The $28.8-million budget Rayan proposed to council is a 7.8-percent increase over the 2012 budget.

Revenues are projected to be higher than in 2012 by $576,000, and expenditures are projected to increase by a little more than $2 million.

One item which will not be included in the final budget is revenue generated from the proposed Walmart on Saltsburg Road.

Penn Hills planners confirmed in November that Walmart had pulled out of the project, opting instead to build a store in Wilkins Township off Route 22 where Sears is currently located.

Deputy Mayor Sara Kuhn wanted to know if Walmart's decision — as well as revenue from the projected sale of the former public-works garage on Frankstown Road — would affect the end balance of the budget, which Rayan said will be about $867,000.

“I don't like projected money that you can't necessarily count on,” Kuhn said.

Walmart and the sale of the garage would combine for about $400,000 in revenue.

Rayan said that through small budget cuts — equipment purchases and other comparatively minor expenditures — the end balance would not be affected.

The budget includes contractual raises of 3.25 percent for police and public-works employees, and 3 percent for emergency medical services workers, members of the Municipal Employees Organization and all non-union employees, management and non-management.

The municipality will have about $457,000 available for capital improvements in 2013, an increase of roughly $51,000 over last year.

Mayor DeLuca said the 2013 proposed budget “gives every department a little bit of what they need. It's unfortunate that the county reassessment numbers will not be in in time, but I have to commend the staff and manager for presenting a detailed, balanced budget.”

The final budget hearing is slated to take place Dec. 28, with the budget vote to follow.

Patrick Varine is an editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7845 or pvarine@tribweb.com.

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