Blairsville looks to hold line on taxes
Blairsville Council on Tuesday approved a tentative 2014 borough budget that will hold the line on the community's real estate tax.
The proposed budget calls for $1,752,662 in expenditures and revenues, up by $5,000 from the figures budgeted for the year that is coming to a close. Property owners will continue to pay 24 mills in real estate tax to the borough.
“It's a flat-line budget,” said council member Ron Evanko. It will be subject to a final vote at council's Dec. 17 meeting.
Borough manager Tim Evans noted that the budget reflects about a 10-percent increase in costs for some insurance policies including worker's compensation coverage.
But he pointed out there have been savings in personnel costs since three workers have opted out of health insurance provided through the borough. Also, a longtime secretary who recently retired has not been replaced and two other positions have been filled by new employees with less seniority who are receiving lower wages.
The 2014 police department budget, which reflects wage increases for the officers and police chief, totals $339,110 — up from the 2013 budgeted amount of $330,542.
The public works budget is projected at $180,188, up from $173,341. The new executive budget is at $71,293, up from $70,070. The borough secretary budget is at $63,833, down from $72,164.
Council agreed to seek proposals for a tax anticipation loan for 2014.
Village funding sought
The borough panel also approved a resolution authorizing application for a $200,000 Keystone Communities grant from the state Department of Community and Economic Development.
Leann Chaney, executive director of the Blairsville Community Development Authority, explained the grant, if awarded, would help to cover costs involved in laying the groundwork for the Riverfront Village residential area on the west end of town, which the authority is planning to develop for the borough.
Chaney said the grant would help fund such items as planning and design, engineering and architectural services as well as installation of sidewalks and utilities on vacant land — much of it recently cleared — that the authority hopes to develop in the vicinity of West Market and Liberty streets. She noted the cost of that work likely would exceed the $400,000 the authority would have on hand once it provided a match for the hoped-for grant.
Chaney said she intends to submit the grant application well before the Jan. 17 deadline with word on its fate expected by mid-2014.
She said she is anticipating release of other state funds to reimburse the authority for money expended in relation to adjacent streetscaping improvements. Those funds would provide the authority the means to match the Keystone Communities grant.
According to Chaney, the authority wants to develop 34 residential lots in a subdivision that includes the former Conemaugh Terrace apartments and portions of the former Vale Tech campus.
Jon Herby, president of the authority board, said the subdivision plan is about 90 percent complete and must be reviewed by the borough planning commission. He said placement of the housing would be “denser than originally planned, which will give us more open space. We'll be pushing residential units back from the Diamond (intersection of Market and Liberty streets).”
Chaney said the authority also plans to develop property at Brown and Liberty streets, the site of a past skating rink, that would not be part of the subdivision.
Tax collection concerns
During public comments at council's regular meeting, borough resident Michael Parr voiced concerns about operations of the borough tax collector, Carol Tarasovich.
Parr said he and his wife mailed three checks totaling $3,400 on Sept. 23 for payment of fall and per capita taxes, but he learned that the checks weren't cashed until Nov. 5. He said some of his neighbors also complained they'd gone to see the tax collector at least two different times during posted hours but no one was in the tax office, which is no longer located at the borough municipal building.
“To me, the failure to deposit checks in a timely manner and the failure to be in attendance during scheduled hours is frankly a failure to perform their duties in a timely manner,” Parr said of the tax collector.
Parr, who noted he served as a bank examiner before retiring as a U.S. Treasury employee, urged borough officials to “find out what is going on and ensure all the taxpayers' money is getting to the appropriate parties that it should be.”
“There could be absolutely nothing there, and that would be great,” he said, but he told council, “You need to check on it.”
Council President John Bertolini said the borough is looking into the issues.
“We are aware of everything you said,” Evans told Parr.
Evans reported 2013 borough tax receipts are about $81,000 short of where they were budgeted to be at this time of the year. “We've never been this far behind,” he said, indicating tax receipts have fallen short of the budget at most by about $10,000 during the previous decade.
“Have you called (the collector) and asked her what's going on?” council member Carrie Smith asked. Evans replied that he had scheduled a meeting with Tarasovich for this past Thursday.
Reached by phone at her office Wednesday, Tarasovich said she understood the topic of Thursday's meeting was meant to be tax reports that are filed at the county courthouse and that an employee from the county's technology staff also was to attend.
Tarasovich acknowledged that tax collections are behind this year. But she noted she had a late start getting her office up and running after being appointed early in the year to replace Joan Baker, who retired from the tax collector post.
“We are six weeks behind,” Tarasovich said of the borough tax collections. “I've only had seven months to do what other collectors have had 11 months to do.”
In November, Tarasovich was elected to a full term as tax collector.
Responding to the concerns presented to council, she said, “I have never held anybody's checks and I don't appreciate anybody insinuating anything is fraudulent.
“I have detailed daily sheets for every single deposit I've made.”
Tarasovich noted those phoning her office might not reach her on the first try if they call when she's busy with another customer.
She said that the only days she was absent from her office during business hours was on Nov. 12-14, when she was called away on business related to her role as tax collector. She noted that she also would have to temporarily close her office to attend the meeting with Evans.
Tarasovich confirmed that her office hours are 10:30 a.m. to noon and 1:30 to 4 p.m. Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays.
Blairsville officials are weighing an update of a 1962 ordinance that prohibits all pigs within the town because a borough resident wants to purchase a pot-bellied pig as a pet.
Evans suggested an amended ordinance might place restrictions on pet pigs similar to those in place for pet dogs. It was also suggested the resident might check with her neighbors to see if they have any objections to the unusual pet.
Jeff Himler is an editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-459-6100, ext. 2910 or firstname.lastname@example.org.