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Some Connellsville council members say difficult budget choices face them

| Monday, Oct. 14, 2013, 7:30 p.m.

As the federal government continues with its budget battles, Connellsville City Council will soon have to start working on its spending plan for 2014.

At Wednesday's council meeting, dates and times for budget meetings will be set, said Councilman Brad Geyer.

The budget sessions must be advertised and are open to the public.

Several council members said they understand they will face difficult budget choices soon.

“The budget meetings will be a challenge this year,” Councilman Gregory Ritch said. “We have created some things (problems), and now we will have to deal with them.”

Ritch said council will have to come up with some creative ways to solve the budget problems.

Councilwoman Marilyn Weaver agreed with Ritch's assessment.

“It will be very difficult,” Weaver said. “A tax increase must be on the table as a consideration.”

Weaver expressed disappointment with the lateness of the process and said the work will be difficult.

“I feel it should have been started sooner,” she said “I did not vote to approve the budget last year (because of the lack of a tax increase.) If there is not a tax increase, I will not vote in favor of (a budget.)

“I don't want a tax increase,” she said. “I'm on a fixed income. I guess it should go up at least 1.5 mills and we probably still are going to have to borrow.”

But Weaver said council will not know what will be needed until the members sit down in the budget sessions.

“I really don't know (about a tax increase,)” said Mayor Charles Matthews, who added it is not possible to tell until he and council sit down and review the figures.

Councilman Tom Karpiak agreed there are potential shortages with the 2014 budget. He said a tax increase may be necessary.

“It has to be addressed,” Karpiak said. “We haven't looked at (the 2014 budget.) We'll have to see.”

Karpiak, who handles the city's street department, said that department has been under budget for the past four years, although he said the department has had to make do without a tar buggy, used to seal cracks in the city streets.

According to Karpiak, the city has attempted to purchase the equipment in conjunction with Connellsville Township and South Connellsville. However, that did not come about. The city also attempted to enter an agreement with Fayette County. He said that arrangement also did not work out.

Also, on Wednesday council is set to take action to pay $380,494 into the Police and Fire Fighters Pension Plans in order to satisfy the 2013 Minimum Municipal Obligations. This includes $182,564 in General Municipal Pension System State Aid received from the Pennsylvania Auditor General's Office. The city will have to take $197,929 from the general fund account to satisfy the remainder.

One problem for the city is a rapid increase in the required payment for the pension funds, especially the police pension fund, over the past several years. In 2010, the total allocation (from the General Municipal Pension System State Aid and from local payments) into the city's police pension fund was $177.158.00. This year, that allocation increased to $309,885.

Judy Keller, city treasurer, said the increase for the pensions, while in the budget, was not balanced against an increase in income.

Keller worries the immediate problem facing the city is a lack of cash to cover all of the bills that will come due before the end of the year.

She worries the city may not have enough cash to cover the city's pension obligation, payroll and the repayment of the $675,000 tax anticipation loan that will come due. She said the city may have to borrow more money before the end of the year to cover the obligations.

“The handwriting was on the wall a year ago,” she said.

Attempts to reach Geyer for additional comments were unsuccessful.

Karl Polacek is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at kpolacek@tribweb.com or 724-626-3538.

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