Residents express concern with proposed Penn Hills budget
Penn Hills residents were not overly receptive of proposed ideas for filling a $1.4 million shortfall in the 2019 budget during the municipality’s first hearing Dec. 3.
Of the nearly 100 people who came to the meeting, 16 spoke for nearly an hour expressing concerns with certain aspects of the nearly $32.6 million spending plan. Revenue is projected at $29.7 million, creating a $2.8 million gap. Half of the gap will be covered by $1.4 million carried over from the fund balance.
Mayor Sara Kuhn kept her word when she said she and council members would stay silent at this meeting and take notes to allow more people to speak. The mayor was criticized for monopolizing discussion at a budget hearing last year and for getting into a heated exchange with a resident.
Newly hired Manager Scott Andrejchak has presented the public with three options to fill the gap :
• Increase property taxes by one mill, which would bring the new rate to 6.444 mills. The proposed rate would mean the owner of a $100,000 home would pay an additional $8.30 per month, or a total of $53 a year. A balanced spending plan presented to the public already factors in the 1 mill increase.
• Raise the Earned Income Tax rate from 1.75 percent to an unspecified number.
• Pay a monthly fee for the municipality’s waste services, which would start at $16.25 per month in 2019 and climb to $17.93 by 2021.
Andrejchak has blamed the budget shortfall on higher waste service fees. Council approved a three-year, $10.4 million contract with Republic Services in November, a 43-percent increase from the previous three-year deal.
Resident Corey Young balked at the manager’s reasoning.
“If the cost of one service forces an increase in the taxes and fees, then really the municipality is not fiscally prudent and it really begs some really important questions about what the money is being spent on and what the municipality is budgeting as a whole,” Young said.
The resident pointed to the proposed budget’s inclusion of 2 to 3 percent wage increases for all municipal employees.
He was not alone — seven people voiced concern over salary increases amid a $1.4 million gap.
Caiolinn Ertel, a Penn Hills resident, implored council to compare salaries of employees at other municipalities “in other places to see if we’re really in the correct ballpark for what we’re pulling in as a revenue.”
“This is not the most wealthy municipality in the world,” she said.
Another resident, Steven Feinberg, suggested “calling back” former manager Mohammed Rayan’s severance payout, which could have amounted to over $220,000 when he stepped down from his post to return to the public works department in July. Officials never have disclosed the total amount of his severance.
“Do something prudent. … That’s a lot of money to give somebody when a township is experiencing a financial difficulty that we are – $200,000 is a lot of money,” Feinberg said.
Most residents who spoke said of the three options presented, they prefer to pay through increased property taxes.
“I would support the mill increase,” said resident Alison Bursic. “Trash collection is not an (amenity). It goes to the health and safety of the community. … It should be included as part of my taxes.”
Others had questions about specific budget line items. Kuhn said she and council members would present their answers during the next budget hearing scheduled for 7 p.m. Dec. 17.
A copy of the proposed 2019 spending plan can be found on the municipality’s website and is available for public inspection at the administrative building at 102 Duff Road.
A final budget will be voted on at a Dec. 28 meeting, scheduled to start at 3 p.m.
Dillon Carr is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Dillon at 412-871-2325, email@example.com or via Twitter @dillonswriting.