There are aspects of life that we want to have a little spice, a little drama. For most of us, our municipal budget is not one of those. Steve Feller, Mt. Lebanon’s municipal manager, is proud to say that the 2013 recommended budget is drama-free. “There are not a lot of changes this year,” he says. “It remains a very conservative budget.”
Mt. Lebanon’s recommended operating budget for 2013 is $29.6 million. An additional $18.9 million in big-ticket items has been recommended from the capital improvement budget, for a total of $48.6 million. The budget assumes a property reassessment that will result in an increase of 5 percent over real estate revenue from 2012. There is no way, however, to predict a new millage rate because of anti-windfall legislation that limits the amount of revenue a taxing body can receive as a result of a reassessment. The current municipal property tax rate is 5.43 mills. Feller pegs the new rate at somewhere between 4.4 and 4.89 mills, depending on results of assessment appeals. At 5.43 mills, Mt. Lebanon’s share is about 14 percent of the total 38.25-mill tax bill. The county claims 5.69 mills, and the rest—27.13 mills, or almost 71 percent—goes to the school district.
Mt. Lebanon uses a modified zero-based budget system. This means each level of service in each department is justified anew each year and given a separate funding cost. Department heads and staff officers requested funding for a total of 289 units. Feller worked with the staff to prioritize those units, balancing needs with funds available. Although all the units represented improved service, only 182 of the original decision units made Feller’s cut.
For example, the public works department’s ice and snow control budget is divided into six service levels. Level 1 is Minimum Response: Main arteries, hills and intersections are plowed between 4 a.m. and midnight, and residential streets are divided into five sections, central, north, south, east and west. The next four levels of service—adding a truck for main roads; providing salt boxes for resident use and clearing municipal sidewalks; expanding to eight crews; and increasing response coverage to cover hours between midnight and 4 a.m.—are all included in the department’s current level of service, at a total cost of $821,750. This year, a requested sixth service level—purchase of $106,740 of brine-making equipment—which is currently used in Peters Township and Upper St. Clair and would make road salt faster acting—was not approved.
Once the recommended budget is completed, the public gets three chances to weigh in at public hearings before the commission votes to approve the budget, which is scheduled to happen at the December 11 meeting.
This September, the commission established 12 priorities for the 2013 budget:
No cuts in public safety service levels.
Accelerate the mixed-use air rights project over the LRT station. This is a plan to develop the area above the Mt. Lebanon station.
Funding for deer management. An additional $4,000 has been added for deer management education.
Improve tree maintenance. Funds are in place for continued ash borer treatment, expanded removal of infected ash trees and an increase in contractual tree trimming.
Expand code enforcement. Plans are in the works to institute an apartment registration program, the cost of which will be offset by registration fees.
Emphasize neighborhood traffic control. Includes funding for a road safety audit, neighborhood traffic calming and signal synchronization in several areas. This is a project that began in 2012 and will carry over into 2013.
Improve park maintenance. A reallocation of hours resulted in a $106,000 increase in the parks maintenance budget. Also, the commission funded more than $1 million in park and recreation facility improvements from the general fund balance, which will carry over into 2013, and the commission is considering a $5.5 million bond issue to renovate the pool and for improvements to athletic fields and to the golf course.
Improve equity in property assessment.
Evaluate funding for organizations.
Maintain vehicle replacement program.
Improve technology. The budget includes $12,000 for a video system in a municipal conference room and to eliminate the paper packets of information each commissioner receives prior to each meeting. Upgrades are continuing to the municipal telephone hardware system and the budget calls for replacement of 24 outdated computers and for improved access for public works employees in the field.
Enhance environmental sustainability. Upgrades to increase energy cost savings in the municipal building, public safety building and recreation center, begun in 2012, will carry over into 2013. The improvements are guaranteed by LINC, the company coordinating the work, to save Mt. Lebanon a total of $2.5 million over 15 years. If the savings aren’t realized, LINC will make up the difference.
You can find hard copies of the Manager’s Recommended Budget at the library and the customer service center, in the lobby of the municipal building. You can also find it online at www.mtlebanon.org.