Penn Hills Council adopted a spending plan for the upcoming year without raising property taxes and, officials were quick to emphasize, with a surplus in leftover funds.
The $34 million budget, a 6% increase from the previous year, was balanced by using $3 million in carryover funds – an identical move done in 2019 when preparing this year’s spending plan.
Council adopted the budget 4-1. Councilman Jim Getsy dissented.
Getsy said he wished the municipality had included fire departments in the budget and had spent more time going over his concerns during budget hearings.
Mayor Pauline Calabrese pointed to the budget to refute Getsy’s claim that the fire departments were not included in the spending plan.
The 2021 budget includes $500,980 for fire services, a $31,500 increase from 2020’s allocation. The additional money is earmarked for maintenance and repairs.
The mayor also said council had three public hearings and an informational meeting on Dec. 11 to discuss the budget.
Manager Scott Andrejchak said the meeting involved himself and the finance director availing themselves to council members on any questions or concerns they might have.
Getsy said he did bring up his concerns during the meeting, but that council does not have fruitful discussions. He wished council had included more funds for fire departments to be able to purchase fire-retardant suits, which had a price tag of about $100,000.
“I just hope I opened the door for further discussion,” he said.
Andrejchak warned against the practice of using carryover funds to balance a municipal budget back in 2019, saying it “creates the appearance of a balanced budget to postpone choices about revenues and expenses.”
The carryover funds will likely be used to make up for losses expected in around $850,000 of tax revenue and from other sources like fees for permits.
Officials have said the financial blow everyone expected this year happened a smaller scale. Andrejchak expects a small surplus of about $15,000 by the end of 2020.
The brunt of the financial hit from covid-19 is expected in 2021, the manager has said.
Most of the onslaught from the pandemic came in the form of curtailments to services and staff reductions. The municipality closed the library and senior services and laid off 57 full- and part-time employees at the end of March. Benefits for those employees were paid through June. Many of the full-time employees have since found other positions within the municipality or have retired, Andrejchak has said. Some of the part-time staffers were recalled.
Andrejchak has said major budget items in 2021 include renegotiating the municipality’s garbage services contract, which led to a property tax hike in 2019. Another big item includes divesting the municipality’s financial obligation to senior services.
Andrejachak said Penn Hills plans to use a third-party organization to take over staffing needs for senior services. The move is expected to free up $500,000 in municipal funds that had gone into paying salaries and benefits for five full-time employees, who were laid off earlier this year.
Deputy Mayor Catherine Sapp, Councilman John Petrucci and Calabrese praised the administration’s action to present a budget without the need to raise property taxes and finish out 2020 with a small surplus.
“I am so honored and so proud that we have a balanced budget, that we have a surplus and that we are passing our budget with no tax increase for real estate,” Sapp said.
Council will meet at 3 p.m. Dec. 30 to approve year-end expenses and “any other last-minute item that could require approval,” said Andrejchak.