Here’s something we all like to hear: the manager’s recommended budget includes no tax increase next year. Municipal manager Steve Feller reports that Mt. Lebanon will be able to get along without having to raise tax rates and still be able to afford to fund municipal services.
Feller stresses that the 2014 recommended budget is a conservative proposal that holds the line on spending. The operating budget increases only 1.4 percent over the 2013 figure. Contractual wages and benefits increase 2.1 percent, contractual services are up only 0.9 percent and the budget for commodities decreased by 3.7 percent. Mt. Lebanon staff starts thinking about the next year’s budget when the current year is only about half over. In June, the commission meets with the manager and establishes broad budget priorities for the next year. In July, department heads begin assembling cost figures, estimates and projections on how much it’s going to cost to run their shops for the coming year. Each department has at least one meeting with the finance department, which is responsible for accumulating all of the requests from every corner into one long document and planning how much revenue will be available for funding. Feller works with the finance department and the other municipal departments to contain line item costs and review service level alternatives.
After all this, Feller incorporates all of the service level requests from every department—in this year’s budget there are 290—and gives each one of them a numerical ranking. Then, with the revenue information supplied by the finance department, just like a home budget, he figures out how many of the things on the list we can afford. Although Feller emphasizes that the recommended budget is just that—a recommendation—188 of the items are recommended for funding. Among the items that did not make the list are $7,630 for a recognition dinner for boards and authorities volunteers; $9,500 to paint the golf course clubhouse; and $51,420 for expanded repairs to damaged brick streets.
As expected, the top-line items in the budget are the basic necessities of municipal service: $5.15 million for police patrol services, $3.4 million for fire protection and $810,480 for ice and snow control. Some of the new initiatives in the 2014 recommended budget are:
Capital improvements. The manager proposes issuing a bond to fund capital improvements, including extensive renovations to both parking garages, a new roof for the municipal building, repair to the embankment along Lindendale Drive, a new electric Zamboni and municipal building security system replacement.
Community and economic development. The production of an uptown shopping and dining guide, for use by visitors, including customers at the SpringHill Suites by Marriott on Washington Road, which now has an expected opening date of January 2014. On Beverly Road, the restoration of benches and lamp posts, replacement of trash cans, new sidewalk and recycling containers. As part of the planning for development of the transit oriented district around the Mt. Lebanon trolley station, an analysis of Port Authority operations and impact of development on rides at Mt. Lebanon Station.
Fire volunteer incentive. This service level provides a stipend to pay volunteers to work duty shifts when there are fewer than four career firefighters on duty. The stipend will insure that Mt. Lebanon can meet minimum staffing for NFPA fire suppression safety standards.
Parking technology pilot program. Purchase of “smart” parking software that lets customers and merchants know where available metered parking is located in real time. Also improves productivity of meter enforcement personnel.
Refuse collection. This month, Mt. Lebanon is evaluating bids on a five-year trash contract. The commission will review a number of new options, including automated recycling service, residential e-waste and hazardous materials collection, a recycle credit program and, possibly beginning in 2016, a pay as you throw program. There are different costs for each of the recycling options.
Mt. Lebanon’s home rule charter requires the adoption of a budget before the end of the year. On November 1, the recommended budget will be available for public review, online at www.mtlebanon.org, in the library and at the customer service center in the lobby of the municipal building.
The Commission’s budget review sessions will be held on November 6, 14, and 18. These will be televised on Comcast channel 17 and Verizon channel 34 in the days following each meeting as well as on www.mtlebanon.org.