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Property taxes up, recycle fee down in Lower Burrell

| Tuesday, Dec. 13, 2011

Lower Burrell residents should break even in 2012 as property taxes increase but the recycling fee decreases.

Council on Monday unanimously passed an $8.2 million budget for 2012 that increases property taxes by about 2.5 percent, from 20.25 mills to 20.75 mills. One mill generates about $120,000 in tax revenue.

City Clerk Kelly Cook said contractual wage increases, as well as health insurance costs that could climb by 9 percent, were primary reasons for the budget increase of about 3.5 percent over the 2011 spending plan.

Council earlier in the fall was concerned the city would struggle to fill a large deficit and reached out to employees for wage concessions to avoid layoffs. A wage freeze did not come to fruition, but no layoffs are planned.

Officials previously said revenue gains, particularly in the cable franchise fee and business privilege tax, helped improve the financial outlook.

Another boon to the city is a new recycling contract that will reduce costs which will mean lower rates for residents once council approves them next month.

Council earlier this year awarded a 2012 contract for curbside recycling to Waste Management for about $97,000 annually about $50,000 less than PA Recyclers charged the city this year.

The reduced cost means residents will go from paying $48 per year for recycling to $36 a 25 percent reduction. The $12 drop in the fee is about equal to the increase in the property tax bill for the average resident.

Starting next year, the recycling fee will be collected quarterly with the sewage fees. The fee previously was collected in two $24 payments.

Not only will residents pay less, but Waste Management will collect more items than the previous company. Cook said now all types of plastic will be collected, as will phone books, non-corrogated cardboard and other types of paper. That's in addition to newsprint, tin, aluminum and glass.

The recycling fee was new in 2011 and was met with resistance by some residents. Council and Mayor Don Kinosz tried to educate people that recycling is required by state law and that residents had been paying for it all along, just as part of their tax bill instead of a separate fee.

Cook said recyclables now will be collected twice a month on Tuesdays. Information about the changes soon will be sent to residents.

IN OTHER BUSINESS

• Council unanimously approved an ordinance that governs Marcellus shale natural gas well drilling in the city.

After months of review, council adopted a set of regulations similar to those enacted earlier this year by Upper Burrell. Solicitor Steve Yakopec drafted the ordinance for both communities.

The ordinance limits Marcellus drilling to industrial and conservation zones. Since it is considered a conditional use, a review by city officials is necessary before any drilling can occur.

"That gives us control," Kinosz said.

The ordinance also oversees issues such as road maintenance, nuisance concerns such as lighting and noise, and safety concerns such as fencing and notification of neighbors.

To Kinosz' disappointment, no residents attended a public hearing Monday before the ordinance was passed.

• Councilwoman Irene Karrs, attending her last official meeting after she didn't seek re-election this year, was lauded for her 12 years in office.

She was the first woman to serve on Lower Burrell Council. She oversaw the public works department.

"It was not easy going into a man's department," said Karrs. "But I always treated everyone the same."

Council members lauded her for dedication and competence.

Karrs said council probably hasn't seen the last of her: "I've got to keep them on their toes."

Additional Information:

About the proposed tax hike

Here's how taxes would change on a house with an assessed value of $20,000.

Old tax rate: 20.25 mills

New tax rate: 20.75 mills

Old tax bill: $405

New tax bill: $415

Tax increase: $10

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