The city's budget is balanced but fragile, mayor says.
By PETER H. MILLIKEN
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
GIRARD -- City council adopted a balanced budget and a 3 percent sewer rate increase as it struggles to extricate the city from fiscal emergency.
Council adopted the $4.2 million in general fund appropriations for 2002 Tuesday night, and Mayor James J. Melfi said revenues are projected to exceed expenditures by $75,000 to $100,000. "The budget is balanced. It's very fragile, of course," he said.
He added, however, that the city is still $1.6 million in debt, due to construction of a $5.2 million justice center, $2.2 million worth of underground utility installation under U.S. Route 422, and the purchase of Girard lakes for $2.5 million, which combined to put the city in a state-imposed fiscal emergency. These three projects were undertaken before he took office, the mayor said.
Sewer rates: The sewer rate increase from $4.25 to $4.38 per 1,000 gallons, also adopted Tuesday, will add about $1 a month to the average household's sewer bill, the mayor said. Council will likely consider a 7 percent water rate increase, amounting to $5 per month for the average household, in the next few weeks, he said. In the longer term, council will likely consider increasing the municipal income tax or property taxes, he added.
Besides adopting the sewer and water rate increases, the state's performance audit said the city should raise the city income tax from 2 percent to 21/2 percent or levy an additional 5 mills of property tax, with either tax increase to be effective for five years.
The mayor said he supports the recommendations of the performance audit, whose adoption he said would free the city from fiscal emergency in 30 to 33 months, but he added that he's willing to listen to alternatives that would achieve equal results.
Council also passed legislation to allow the salary of Mark Zuppo, parks and recreation director, who has a full-time private job, to drop from $15,000 to $1 a year after Zuppo asked the city to reduce his salary to help the city save money. Despite the city's fiscal problems, Melfi said no parks or fields will close and no recreation programs will be cut.