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Connellsville to hike taxes .84-mill; first increase in 25 years

| Friday, Nov. 29, 2013, 12:06 a.m.

Connellsville City Council voted to adopt a proposed $2.96 million budget for 2014 that calls for a 0.84-mill tax increase.

If the tentative spending plan is approved in December, city residents will see their real estate taxes increase from 6.66 mills to 7.5 mills. This would mark the first time in 25 years that the city has raised its property taxes.

Councilman Brad Geyer, director of the city finances, said council members worked diligently to cut spending in next year's budget but felt a tax increase was the only option.

The 2013 budget was $3.69 million, which reflected $736,000 less than the 2014 plan, Geyer said.

“But the bulk of the additional money in the 2013 budget included $675,000 in a tax anticipation note,” Geyer said. “But we actually did decrease next year's budget by about $61,000.”

Before the proposed budget was introduced Wednesday, Geyer said council members reviewed each line item and reduced expenses during budget work sessions.

“Council decided that if the city is going to ask the residents for a tax increase, we would cut as much as we possibly could from the budget,” Geyer said. “And that's exactly what we did. I think we have a strong budget.”

The city's four council members — Geyer, Marilyn Weaver, Tom Karpiak and Greg “Mattie” Ritch — supported the budget.

Mayor Charles Matthews, who abstained from voting, said he was avoiding the appearance of a “conflict of interest” because he is a member of the New Haven Hose Company, the city's volunteer fire department, that was allocated $24,000 in the budget.

A city resident recently contacted the state to report a potential “conflict of interest” involving the city's allocation of Community Development Block Grant money and the mayor's affiliation with New Haven Hose Company.

“I do want to make it clear that if it wasn't questioning my integrity, I would support the budget,” Matthews said.

Matthews said rumors have been circulating around Connellsville that the city is $1 million in debt.

“These rumors just aren't true,” Matthews said. “The city should have about $500,000 left at the end of the year, which is enough money to pay our bills and our employees.”

Ritch claimed political motivations led to the questions of the mayor's integrity.

“If anyone wears the heart of the city on his sleeve, it's you, Mayor,” Ritch said. “The state investigated the allegations and determined that a conflict of interest did not exist. You are a man of honor and integrity. Like you, I will always support the New Haven Hose Company.”

Cindy Ekas is a contributing writer.

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