No tax hike for Trafford
After borrowing money to solidify borough finances, Trafford Council is considering hiring a borough manager and creating a nearly $100,000 reserve fund without raising the property tax rate in 2013.
But council members acknowledged at a meeting Monday night that they might have to tighten the budget to be able to afford a manager beyond next year.
Council voted 4-1 to advertise a $1.8 million preliminary budget that would keep the property tax rate at 28.5 mills. The budget features about $470,000 more in spending or reserves than originally was planned for 2012.
Vicki Megon, Rich Laird, Rita Windsor and Casey Shoub supported the spending plan, while Frank Bruno opposed it. John Daykon and Henry Schultz were absent.
A final budget might be approved as soon as council's next regular meeting at 7 p.m. on Dec. 18.
Much of the budget increase is because of one-time revenue Trafford received through a $2.75 million general-obligation bond to restructure its debts. The bond also enabled officials to repay the general fund for about $380,000 of the estimated $600,000 in cost overruns beyond the $2-million loan the borough had for the new public safety building.
Another one-time line item, for an estimated $52,000, reflects the temporary pass-through payment from the state Department of Transportation to Trafford for borough police officers to direct traffic at the intersection of Route 130 and Forbes Road during construction of the new Trafford Veterans Memorial Bridge.
Though the draft shows a balanced budget with a reserve fund that could grow to $96,000 by the end of 2013, council members debated whether the plan will enable them to follow through on a long-desired goal of hiring a manager.
Megon said the specialized position is necessary because many council members have full-time jobs and are unable to manage the town on a volunteer basis. The proposed salary is $45,000, with benefits pushing the total cost to $72,272.
“We do believe that this is something that we need to find the money to do,” Megon said of the finance committee's recommendation for a manager.
But Bruno, who said he's a longtime proponent of a manager, said the salary and benefits equal nearly 3 mills worth of property tax revenue. He said the only reason council didn't make the hire previously was because it couldn't afford a manager.
Though the bond proceeds are enabling Trafford to carry over $350,000 into next year's budget, Bruno questioned whether there will be enough money to keep a manager on the payroll the following year. Council members did a rough estimate that their 2013 spending estimates might leave them $79,000 short of revenue for the 2014 budget if it hires a manager.
“You guys do whatever you want,” Bruno said. “I just think you're headed for a major brick wall in 2014.”
Megon said other expenses might have to be reconsidered to accommodate the hiring.
“I personally think that other things need to be shaved,” she said. “If nothing else happens, then that needs to happen.”
If council hires a manager, the administrator position held by Lisa Mallik could be switched to the title of secretary/clerk, Megon said. Council is recommending a 3-percent increase for that role, which would boost Mallik's pay to $32,383.
Another one-time expense in the budget includes $150,000 from the bond proceeds for the construction of a parking lot for the Manchester Room community hall in the public safety building.
Meanwhile, council estimates it will make $121,000 in payments next year on the 30-year bond. This year, council's payments for the former 20-year, $2 million bank loan totaled $141,000.
Though council is not planning a tax-rate increase, Shoub said, officials might have to consider an increase in sewage fees to keep up with a project maintenance schedule and potential rate increases by the Allegheny County Sanitary Authority, or Alcosan.
Shoub said the borough might have to make $800,000 in repairs to the borough system over the next three years, but only $150,000 is budgeted for 2013.
Trafford also might have to pass on any increases by Alcosan, which estimates it will have to spend at least $2 billion to reduce the amount of untreated wastewater that overrides its systems during heavy rains.
Chris Foreman is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-856-7400, ext. 8671, or firstname.lastname@example.org.