Whoa! Ford City budget up in air

| Thursday, Jan. 17, 2013, 12:02 a.m.

FORD CITY — It appears the borough does not have a 2013 budget after all, which took at least one council member by surprise.

“I didn't know,” said Councilwoman Kim Bish who said she left Monday's public meeting thinking that a 4-2 vote of council had overturned Mayor Marc Mantini's veto of a tax ordinance that would have raised real estate taxes by 9 percent.

“They (some members of council and the borough's solicitor Frank Wolfe) figured everyone knew that the veto was upheld. I didn't. That changes things now.”

The public attending the meeting also were left to believe that the 4-2 vote was enough to overturn the veto when council and the solicitor did not explain what had happened with the 4-2 vote, that the mayor's veto of the borough's tax ordinance would stand.

Wolfe had told some members of council in closed-door session prior to the meeting that it would take a majority of all elected council members plus one, 5 of 6 votes, to overturn the veto, rather than a two-thirds vote. The stipulation is outlined in the state's borough codes laws.

That information was not made public at the meeting.

“I guess I should take some of the responsibility for that, in hindsight, and made an announcement,” said Wolfe on Wednesday. He said he did not see Bish prior to the meeting to inform her.

Vergari apologized for the misunderstanding, saying in a letter to the Leader Times yesterday that the number of council votes needed to override the veto by the mayor should have been explained clearly to the people and the news media during the meeting.

Mantini had said that he did not want to further burden the taxpayers when he vetoed the $2.6 million budget for 2013 funded by a 1.5 mills increase in property taxes.

In the vote on Monday to overturn the veto of the tax increase ordinance, council members Paul Harmon, Bish, Rob Mohney and Vergari voted yes to overturn it. Councilmen Gene Banks and Jerry Miklos voted no, saying a tax increase should not be necessary.

“I was told just before the meeting that it needed five votes to overturn the veto,” said Vergari. “I was in shock about Gene Banks vote. I knew then it was over. I knew Jerry (Miklos) would vote no but I had Gene's word that he would vote yes. Gene said to me the night before that we had to pass it — that we have to have street lights and pensions.”

The budget included a 1 mill increase for general purposes (mainly because of pension obligation increases) and a half mill increase in the special tax for street lighting.

Banks said at Monday's meeting that he had changed his mind on his vote.

“I'm allowed to,” he said then.

“I thought he (Banks) was an honorable man,” said Vergari. “He told me he was going to vote yes to overturn the veto and then voted different. Why would he do that?Banks explained on Wednesday that once the mayor did his veto, it allowed him to take a second and closer look at the budget.

“In the meantime, people came up to me and told me their hard stories and I thought we can't take another hit,” Banks said. “Now we can look at the whole body of the budget and see where the pennies can fall.”

Vergari said council now has to do something with the budget to eliminate the tax increase and still balance it. That means cuts, he said.

“We have to talk to our accountant about what to do,” said Vergari. “What are the rules? Do we have to write up a new budget and pass it or trim what we have?”

Vergari said the proposed 1.5-mill tax increase translates to about $42,000 of revenue for the borough. Expenses in the budget will have to be reduced by that amount, he said.

“One thing first up is the new police car we budgeted for,” said Vergari. “That's $10,000 ($10,000 a year for three years).”

Bish added, “We're going to have to trim some and there might be some time (hours for employees and police) taken out of the budget.”

Council must have a budget before Feb. 15 for the county to prepare the property tax bills.

Mitch Fryer is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-543-1303 or mfryer@tribweb.com.

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