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Fee hikes weighed to close deficit

| Wednesday, May 19, 2004

Penn Hills officials are weighing municipal fee increases to help close a $2.8 million budget deficit.

Sewer tap-in fees could jump by more than 500 percent, from $500 to $2,600. Many other fees -- for such things as building permits and site plans -- would double.

Talk of fee increases comes on the heels of a proposed 2-mill tax hike. Officials insist increased fees would keep the tax rate from shooting still higher.

But "we'll wind up charging the additional costs to the customer," said Mike McVay, who has operated a plumbing company in Penn Hills since 1986. "What other recourse do we have?"

Council is to vote June 7 on the proposed hikes -- they would be Penn Hills' first since 1992. Officials have not said how much extra money the increases could raise.

Penn Hills last year pulled in $803,105 in revenues from licenses and permits. That figure would rise to $830,150 under this year's proposed budget. Penn Hills has yet to vote on a proposed $21.3 million spending plan.

Officials say the fee hikes would put Penn Hills on a par with other local communities. Penn Hills' sewer tap-in fee, for example, is among the lowest in Allegheny County, according to planning and economic development director Howard Davidson and water pollution control director Jim Schaffer.

Davidson favors hiking the tap-in fee to $1,500. Schaffer backs an increase to $2,600, a proposal also favored by some council members, including Mayor Anthony DeLuca Jr.

Police Chief Howard Burton opposes Davidson's recommendation that fees on amusement-only video poker machines be doubled from $500 to $1,000 a year.

"How can you justify charging $1,000?" Burton said. "By charging enormous fees for these machines, is the municipality condoning gambling?"

DeLuca backs Davidson's proposal.

"Some of the operators probably make more than that in a week on their machines," DeLuca said.

Since he took over as chief in 1995, Burton has made it a point to collect the fees not only on video poker machines but also pool tables and arcade games at $150 a year, as well as jukeboxes at $50 a year.

"We've brought in close to $80,000 a year in revenues for the municipality," Burton said.

Operators who fail to pay by February face a visit from a Penn Hills police officer and a 10 percent fine, Burton said.

Effective this year, rates went up on park shelter rentals for the first time since the 1970s, said recreation director Dan Miller.

Additional Information:

Proposed changes in minimum fees in Penn Hills

Current Proposed

Building permits $25 $50

Signs $15 $25

Grading permits (maximum) $500 $1,000

Demolition permits $25 $50

Casino-style machines $500 $1,000

Residential sewer tap-ins $500 $2,600

Public hearings -- zone change $400 $800

Zoning hearing board appeals $400 $500

Planning commission site plan $200 $400

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