Bellevue rejects tax increase

A healthy carry-over from 2011 helped convince Bellevue Council members that no property tax increase is necessary for 2012.

Council voted unanimously at its Dec. 30 meeting not to enact a proposed .25 mill tax increase, although members reversed themselves and voted for a 25 cent increase in the sewer surcharge per 1,000 gallons of water used. Council member Lisa Blaney-Stewart was absent from her final meeting.

Treasurer Paul Cusick said that after paying all the bills for 2011, some $250,000 will be brought forward to the new year's budget. He attributed the large surplus to the fact that some $255,000 in delinquent property taxes had been collected by the solicitor's office during the past year, when the borough had budgeted only $69,000 or so for that revenue line item.

"Then why aren't we decreasing our taxes?" asked council member Jane Braunlich.

Cusick said that a great deal of uncertainty over the borough's fiscal future in 2012 remains due to Allegheny County's reassessment program. Although a county court has ordered that the new property assessments be provided to municipalities within the next two months, which would allow for timely billing by local tax offices, an earlier plan would have delayed the assessment figures -- and the bills -- until late spring.

Council member Mark Helbling said that he changed his mind about supporting a tax increase due to the uncertainty surrounding the reassessments.

The 2011 budget originally proposed by council called for the borough to put nearly $400,000 -- including $235,000 in bond refinance savings -- into an emergency fund balance. Council last week voted to take $60,000 from that amount and apply it to the general fund balance to offset the lack of a .25 mill tax increase.

Borough residents also came close to avoiding an increase in their sewer surcharge. An initial vote on the fee was defeated in a 4-4 tie that Mayor George Doscher declined to break. Council president Kathy Coder then called on the borough engineer to outline mandated sewer projects that would need to be funded in the coming years. A second vote on a motion to increase the surcharge from $2 per 1,000 gallons of water used to $2.25 was approved in a 7-1 vote with Braunlich opposed.

Also related to the budget, council adopted an ordinance setting the 2012 garbage collection fee at $168, about $10 less than in 2011. Solicitor Tom McDermott said that he was drafting an ordinance that would allow more property owners to subscribe to the lower-costing borough collection service. Currently, residential properties consisting of one to three units are required to have garbage collected under the borough contract, while those owning larger buildings must pay for private collection. Council will consider allowing the owners of some larger properties to join the borough's contracted service.

Finally, council agreed to reduce the amount that noncontract employees contribute to the cost of their health insurance from 10 percent to 5 percent of the actual cost. The change will bring the office employees' contribution in line with the rate approved in a recent contract with the firefighters' union. The public works and police unions currently are working under contracts that require no contribution.

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