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SHARON, PA. 2002 budget prompts fight



Published: Tue, November 20, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



Council did pass a sewer fund budget that will raise rates for some residential, commercial and industrial users.

By HAROLD GWIN

VINDICATOR SHARON BUREAU

SHARON, Pa. -- Most of the Sharon City Council didn't like the proposed 2002 general fund budget handed out by Mayor Robert T. Price.

Council refused to pass first reading of the $7,960,708 spending plan Monday, although it is customary for council to pass the budget on first reading even though some members oppose its terms.

The first reading is only a formality and the budget doesn't become law until it passes a second reading. It often undergoes substantial changes in the interim.

Price had proposed a general fund budget with a 3.5-mill property tax increase that would generate about $350,000 in new revenue, the exact amount to cover $160,612 needed for 3 percent employee wage increases, $125,000 in increased health insurance costs, $37,000 on a fire truck loan and $21,350 to cover increases in other insurances.

Council was aware of all of those items and, in the case of the employee contracts, has already voted to approve those additional costs, Price said. The average homeowner would see property taxes rise by about $44 a year under his plan, he said.

Vote split: The council vote came down to the same split that divided that body during the recent mayoral election.

Councilman George Gulla and Councilwoman Chris Outrakis, both supporters of mayor-elect David Ryan, voted to introduce the budget, pointing out it was only the first reading for the spending plan.

Councilman Lou Rotunno, who ran against Ryan, and Councilmen Raymond Fabian and Fred Hoffman, who supported Rotunno, all voted against it.

Hoffman said council had no look at the budget before it was handed out at the council meeting. It was the first time, he said, that council had to fill in the blanks on the budget items as it went through its meeting agenda.

Fabian said first readings of budgets usually pass because they propose no tax increase. He said he was surprised with Price's proposal, adding that he had expected something smaller.

Rotunno said he has been "burned before" when asked to vote for something he has never seen and won't do that again. "I expected zero [tax] increase," he said, noting that both he and Ryan had pledged that in their campaigns.

Disputed claims: Outrakis disputed claims that the size of the tax increase was a surprise. "Everyone knew about it," she said.

Ryan said later that, if Price thinks the city needs a tax increase, "I'm going to agree with him." Council did approve the employee contracts that will cost more than $160,000 next year, he noted.

In addition to the tax increase, Price proposed an increase in the sewer fee to provide $180,000 more revenue each year in a sewer fund budget of $2,651,731. The increase wouldn't be applied to those using less than 3,333 gallons of water bimonthly, Price said. However, it would cost residents who use between 3,334 and 10,000 gallons of water bimonthly an additional $19.60 per year on top of the $182 they now pay, he said.

Multi-apartment units and commercial and industrial users would also see their rates increase.

Council passed first reading of that budget 4-1 with only Rotunno opposed.

Hoffman, council president, said council will meet with the mayor and department heads in a Dec. 5 workshop to review the general fund budget. It could get a first reading that night, he said. If not, council will continue working on it and bring it up for first reading at its Dec. 13 meeting, he said.




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