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Uniontown councilman questions city's tentative $8.6M budget

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By Cindy Ekas

Published: Thursday, Nov. 29, 2012, 6:52 p.m.

Uniontown police Chief Jason Cox directed Councilman Gary Gearing to maintain order on Wednesday night when he continued to ask questions about the 2013 tentative budget that holds the line on real estate taxes at 12.23 mills.

Before council voted 4-1 to adopt the $8.6 million spending plan, Mayor Ed Fike told council members that they each had two minutes to make comments and ask questions about the budget.

“I have lots of questions about the budget. It will take more than two minutes,” said Gearing, the only councilman who voiced opposition to the budget.

He said he had questions concerning the income side of the spending plan.

“I don't understand why the city only budgeted $3 million for real estate tax collection for next year,” he said. “Last year we budgeted $3.3 million for tax collection. The city has historically collected more than $3 million.”

Councilman Philip Michael said $3 million is the average amount of real estate taxes the city has collected since 2008 when the current administration took over.

“The city hasn't gone into the red since I came into office,” Fike said. “When I first became mayor, the city had a $1.8 million deficit. We've turned the city's finances around.

“We don't want to overestimate how much we will generate from real estate taxes and get the city into another deficit situation,” he added. “We're trying to be conservative.”

Gearing asked council members why Act 511 taxes keep decreasing.

“Why does the city anticipate a larger drop in Act 511 taxes?” he asked. “Does anyone have an answer?”

Fike and council members offered no response to Gearing's question.

“We haven't had a public budget meeting all year long, and I have a lot of questions,” Gearing said.

“Your time is up,” Fike replied. “Jason (Cox), will you do something about this?”

“Mr. Gearing, the mayor advised you that you had two minutes to ask questions,which is a reasonable amount of time,” said Cox as he walked toward the council table.

“Discussion is supposed to take place in a public forum,” Gearing replied.

“You need to allow the city clerk (Kim Marshall) to read the motions,” Cox said.

If Gearing had questions about the budget, Michael said, he did not understand why Gearing did not attend budget work sessions or ask questions before the public meeting.

“Did you call me?” Gearing asked.

“We had budget meetings, and you didn't come,” Michael said.

The city is expected to adopt its final budget at a special meeting set for 4:30 p.m. Dec. 28.

Cindy Ekas is a freelance writer.



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