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Uniontown councilman questions budget figures

| Friday, Dec. 28, 2012, 7:01 p.m.

Uniontown City Council gave Councilman Gary Gearing an opportunity to ask questions and make comments Friday before it adopted a final $8.6 million for 2013 that holds the line on real estate taxes at 12.235 mills.

Mayor Ed Fike imposed a two-minute time limit on council members at last month's meeting before the tentative spending plan was adopted.

Gearing objected, saying he needed more time to discuss the budget. When Gearing refused to comply with the mayor's mandate and disrupted the meeting, Uniontown Police Chief Jason Cox threatened to arrest him.

Fike said local newspapers wrote editorials criticizing him and council members for imposing a time limit on Gearing.

“We know that Mr. Gearing wants to grandstand and we want to give him an opportunity to do that tonight,” Fike said. “We don't care if Mr. Gearing has to talk until midnight.”

Gearing said he is concerned because he believes council is substantially underestimating the income and overestimating the expenses included in next year's spending plan.

Council said the city's income was estimated at $3.3 million and $3.2 million for the past two years, but Gearing said the amount was reduced to $3 million this year.

Gearing, the only councilman who voted against the budget, said council also underestimated the amount of money it will receive from 511 earned income taxes next year.

“This budget is about credibility and the numbers just aren't adding up,” Gearing said. “When council votes, the numbers aren't accurate and correct.”

“We've already answered this question three times,” replied Councilman Philip Michael who stood up and walked out of council chambers. Fike and Councilmen Francis “Joby” Palumo and Blair Jones followed him.

Fike, a self-employed businessman, said it is prudent to underestimate income and overestimate expenses to make sure the city does not face a deficit situation in 2013.

“When I took office as mayor in 2008, the city had an estimated $1.6 million to $1.8 million deficit and a $2 million shortfall on the financial side,” Fike said. “Since I became mayor, we have turned the financial situation around. We have never borrowed for a tax anticipation loan. We even approved a 1-mill tax decrease.

“Our goal is to continue to build and continue to give back to the taxpayers,” he added.

Cindy Ekas is a freelance writer.

Gearing said he does not understand why the city didn't adopt a budget with a 1-mill tax decrease. Each mill generates about $278,000 for the city.

Michael said the city could not reduce real estates taxes this year because the spending plan is too tight but he indicated the city could consider decreasing taxes in the future.

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