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Fayette commissioners approve 2013 budget with no tax increase

| Wednesday, Dec. 19, 2012, 1:37 a.m.

Fayette County commissioners on Tuesday voted 2-1 in favor of a $29 million budget for 2013 that does not call for a tax increase.

Commissioners Al Ambrosini and Vincent Zapotosky, both Democrats, voted for the budget, while Republican commissioner Angela Zimmerlink was opposed.

The budget includes an estimated $2.2 million fund balance, Ambrosini said. It maintains real estate taxes at 4.51 mills.

Zimmerlink said she believes the general fund should be “in a healthier position,” considering the fund balance and the addition of $4.4 million in revenues generated by last year's 1-mill tax increase.

“We should be in a better position,” Zimmerlink said, noting that the county will receive $1.4 million in Act 13 Marcellus shale impact fees.

Ambrosini said the county's financial adviser, Sam Lynch, advised the board that the budget “is the most realistic budget we've ever had in the county.”

The budget includes four expenses to be covered by Act 13 money: $506,690 for 911 emergency system upgrades; $60,000 to the Fayette County Conservation District to hire an employee; $28,340 to pay an employee's salary in the county records department; and $110,000 to fund a shortfall in pension payments.

John Cofchin of North Union questioned the use of Act 13 money to cover the pension fund shortfall. He said nothing in the Act 13 legislation allows the money to be spent in that manner.

Zapotosky said Lynch told the board it is permissible because the fees can be used for judicial services, and the $110,000 will cover the court's share of pension costs.

Commissioners took no action on a request by Menallen Township Supervisor Joe Petrucci to designate $315,000 in Act 13 fees to townships.

Speaking on behalf of 24 townships, Petrucci suggested that 15 townships receive $15,000 each and nine receive $10,000 each.

Zapotosky and Ambrosini said a program must be developed to determine how to divide the money among the townships, possibly based on a project-by-project basis.

Zimmerlink said she would prefer that townships be given set amounts to spend on projects they determine are appropriate for their communities.

In an unrelated matter, two employees of Highlands Hospital asked the commissioners to set a date to meet to discuss possible resolution of the awarding of a Value Behavioral Health contract to competitor Uniontown Hospital.

Marcy Ozorowski said letting Uniontown offer in-patient mental health services for Medical Assistance patients has drastically impacted admissions to the Connellsville hospital, resulting in layoffs and loss of employee health benefits.

Although one attorney advised commissioners that the manner in which the contract was awarded to Uniontown was appropriate, another attorney advised Highlands that it was not, Ozorowski said.

Ambrosini said a number of attempts to arrange a meeting with commissioners and representatives from both hospitals have failed. Ozorowski said Highlands does not want Uniontown Hospital representatives to attend the meeting.

Both sides said they will work toward setting up a meeting, but a date has not been set.

Liz Zemba is a reporter for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-601-2166 or lzemba@tribweb.com.

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