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City layoffs again likely

Mary Pickels
| Friday, Oct. 2, 2009

One year after he declared the city financially broken and council voted to furlough more than one-third of the city work force, Uniontown Mayor Ed Fike Thursday said layoffs may again be necessary in order to balance the budget.

Unless as many as 25 workers are laid off, he said, the city will be looking at a $220,700 deficit.

The city has repaid $233,000 of a $650,000 tax-anticipation loan the previous administration borrowed. A balance, including interest, of about $440,000 exists.

"We are going to have to crawl before we walk," Fike said. "There will have to be layoffs. I doubt we could get another tax-anticipation loan. If we did, it would only prolong the agony. We're going to have to bite the bullet this winter in order to balance the budget next year. It didn't get this way overnight. We can't fix it overnight. But we are moving forward."

The 2009 budget raised the levy on real estate by 4.5 mills to 13.235 to offset a $1.3 million deficit. One mill generates $268,000.

The proposed layoffs, Fike said, would include seven of the city's 13 firefighters. According to terms of an agreement between the city and the firefighters, three firefighters laid off in October 2008 and who were reinstated in March were to be guaranteed employment until Sept. 18. The remaining four, who were laid off in February, are guaranteed jobs until Dec. 31.

The first three remain on the job, Fike said, because a required meeting between the two sides has been postponed until Oct. 13.

Fike said rumors that he wants to abolish the fire department are just that.

But he said the department is over budget by $108,000.

"I'm not against a paid fire company," he said. "I'm only against not being able to pay them."

"There are not a lot of other areas to cut," City Clerk Kim Marshall said, as other departments already have been pared.

Where potential cuts might be made has not been decided.

"We will know more about that as the general fund dwindles," Fike said.

In an effort to determine residents' wishes, Fike said he will survey city property owners to see whether they would be willing to pay an extra 0.75 of one mill to stave off fire department layoffs.

"I would be hard-pressed to say yes," said Fike, who noted he owns more than 15 city properties.

Fike said he hopes ultimately to see taxes lowered.

"The city tax is too high," he said. "People don't deserve for this to be a permanent thing."

Tax revenues will eventually increase from new residential and business construction, Fike said.

City administrators are also wary of potential health cost increases for the 57 full-time employees.

Health care benefits run $800,000 a year. Employees contribute to the cost, Marshall said.

The city is also paying $132,000 per year to fulfill a 20-year loan obligation on the $1.4 million Penn Street parking garage, as well as $370,000 per year for the South Street parking garage. That garage was refinanced to pay for the city's public safety building.

The two-year-old Penn Street garage brought in $75,000 last year, compared to $32,000 in 2007.

"I don't think we are a city going bankrupt," Fike said. "I don't think we are a city that is going out of business. I think we are a city that is tending to business."

No action will be taken prior to Tuesday's meeting, Fike said. Any action regarding the firefighters would have to follow the Oct. 13 meeting.

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