No tax hike in prelim budget for Zelienople
By J.W. Johnson Jr. Cranberry Bureau Chief
ZELIENOPLE — The borough’s tentative 2019 budget features no tax increases, a goal officials had despite flat revenues.
During a borough council meeting on Nov. 26, Don Pepe, borough manager, said the overall budget for 2019 is $10,909,697. This includes the general, fire, library, water, electric and Highway 8 funds.
The budget reflects a 1.48 percent spending increase over 2018, Pepe said, adding it is still less than 2017’s budget.
“We have a very, very modest increase,” he said.
Pepe said the majority of the expense is in personnel, particularly in the general, electric and water funds.
Additionally, Pepe said the borough’s general liability insurance is up 5 percent. He said there has not been an increase in the number of claims, and the increase is normal.
“It’s just the nature of the beast,” he said.
The property tax rate will stay the same at 1.81 mills, Pepe said. Additionally, recreation is 1 mill, fire is 2 mills and the library is 1 mill.
Pepe told the council that the process of creating the budget was “quite a challenge,” as the first meeting of the finance committee saw little progress.
“We were off a good bit the first time around,” he said.
However, the second meeting of the committee brought “creative ways of figuring out how we were going to do things.”
“It’s what I consider to be a good and fair budget,” he said.
In an interview, Pepe said those discussions included prioritizing capital improvement projects and determining whether they needed to be included in the 2019 budget. He said while some projects could be delayed or completed in phases, officials also did not want to push them off and see them get lost in the shuffle.
“You can’t push things off too far,” Pepe said. “If you do, you’re foolish.”
Projects such as the replacement of roofs at the borough and public works buildings, the purchase of a new dump truck and an addition to the borough’s salt shed have been delayed until 2020. So have water line replacement projects and a sampling and looping system for the water department.
Pepe said a $35,000 project at the Community Park will take place in 2019. He said that with work at the pool and skatepark wrapping up, officials wanted to make sure the stream that runs through the park would not cause problems.
Additionally, the borough’s automated metering system will add $58,000 to the 2019 budget, although it is a recurring payment through 2023, Pepe said.
In the event of an emergency, Pepe said the electric reserve fund has $500,000, while the water reserve fund carries $250,000.
In addition to determining which projects to focus on, Pepe said some requests were not able to be filled in the 2019 budget. He said officials went through line by line to determine which requests could be honored.
Pepe said revenues were relatively flat compared to 2018, causing officials to be more frugal in finding ways to balance the budget. That lead to the extended efforts before this week’s tentative budget being introduced.
“It’s not always easy,” he said of the budget process. “We had to do our due diligence.”
Councilman Ralph Geis praised borough staff and officials for their work on creating the budget, and acknowledged that the process was complicated.
“Our staff did one heck of a job putting this budget together this year,” he said. “It was quite a challenge.”
Council will vote on the budget at its Dec. 10 meeting.