City Adopts Budget

The City of Warren has an approved budget for 2014.

At its meeting Monday night, Warren City Council unanimously approved a general fund budget for next year of approximately $8.3 million.

The budget includes no tax increases, drawing on city reserve funds to balance out.

An accompanying ordinance re-enacting the existing real estate tax rate of 19.8 mills for 2014 was also unanimously approved.

A new city fee schedule, which does include a number of increases, was also approved unanimously in a separate motion.

The measure marks an approximately $700,000 increase in spending over last year’s budget, which was accompanied by a three-mill property tax increase. Some of the increase will be covered by the reserve funds and the rest by cuts.

The budgets for the city’s capital improvement program, sewage and parking funds were approved as part of the broader budget resolution.

The capital improvement program fund budget totals approximately $5 million, over half of which is funded through grants.

With the city’s wastewater treatment system upgrade imminent, the sewer fund budget was approved. The budget, totaling just over $1.5 million, reflects an increase in system usage rates of ten percent.

The increased sewer usage rates had to be enacted in a separate measure, which was also approved unanimously. The rates are being gradually increased over three years to avoid a sudden rate spike and reflect the cost of the system upgrade.

“This has been ongoing,” council member Maurice Cashman noted.

“DEP (Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection) is making us build a new plant,” council member Sam Harvey said. “We really had no choice in this.”

The parking fund budget totaling approximately $400,000 was also approved as part of the broader budget resolution.

The fund once again operates in the red for 2014, with nearly $100,000 more in expenses than in revenues, and accounts for part of the city draw-down of reserve funds, a situation council hopes to begin to address next year.

“I personally think parking should be self-sufficient,” council member Joseph Sprentz said.

Sprentz suggested increasing meter rates and garage fees and re-installing meters downtown.

Cashman cautioned council not to rush into any decisions, instead urging formation of a parking subcommittee at the city’s reorganizational meeting in January.

Harvey suggested increasing parking ticket fees for the time being and reserving any further action for subcommittee review.

Council member John Lewis urged the city to examine re-installation of meters to increase revenue.

Eventually, a motion by council member Howard Ferguson to form a parking subcommittee at the reorganizational meeting with a three-month deadline for possible proposals was approved unanimously.

A number of other companion measures to the budget were also passed and one item that was budgeted for was reported.

A $98,500 grant for work at the city’s municipal swimming pool was approved by the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.

The issue required no city action, but grant matching funds were budgeted for in 2014.

An agreement on the matter will be sent to the city in the next few months, which will require council action.

An agreement with the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development to replenish funds to a revolving loan fund, initially provided in a grant from DCED, was approved unanimously, with Mayor Mark Phillips abstaining. Council had previously agreed to the repayment of the funds and the schedule on which such action would occur, but needed to approve the official written agreement. The replenishment funds were budgeted for.

“This is simply taking what was agreed to and putting it on paper,” City Solicitor Andrea Stapleford said.

Salary ranges for city positions were approved. The payment rates reflect a 2.5 percent increase for non-collective bargaining unit employees, matching the increase for employees in bargaining units, and $7,500 in previously approved discretionary salary increases.