setting budget priorities

Commissioners met for their annual planning retreat from 3 to 5 p.m., Monday, May 19, at the municipal building. The purpose of the  meeting was to begin the 2015 budget process by setting priorities. Facilitator Rob O’Donnell of Solutions 21 led the discussion, which was driven in part by a survey he had commissioners complete prior to the meeting.

The commissioners’ responses showed they view a leader as a “fair, productive, honest problem-solver,” O’Donnell said. “You guys are the leadership of a municipality and it’s a sought-after community,” he added. In the survey, all  five commissioners said they ran for office because they wanted to make Mt. Lebanon a better place.

As part of the survey, commissioners were asked to identify trends affecting today’s decision makers, as well to point out daunting challenges. Trends they most frequently mentioned were taxes, the recovery of the real estate market, the Marcellus shale industry and public sentiment toward government. Daunting challenges included traffic safety, balancing fiscal priorities, commission effectiveness and resident perception.

One survey question asked,  “What would ruin the community if left unchecked?” Commissioners said:  (lack of attention to) public safety, disinterest (in issues), drugs and deer.

With the survey results providing a context, the Commissioners then turned their attention to the 2015 budget. The big question of the day, worked out during the second half of the session, was, “What are the budget priorities after the obvious ones of police, fire, trash and snow removal and road repair?” O’Donnell asked them to come up with three, but the Commission could only whittle the list to six.

So, the  priorities for the 2015 budget are, in order: Deer, road safety, economic development, recreation, parks maintenance/green space preservation and neighborhood (historic) preservation. The commissioners were quick to say that their priorities are not necessarily the things they want to spend the most money on; rather, they are the most important decisions to be made during the budget process. In fact, the solution to the deer issue could be to do nothing at all, they said. But they agreed it is important to decide whether or not to pursue some sort of deer management strategy by the end of 2015.

Municipal Manager Steve Feller now has a clear directive as he works on his proposed budget, which will be released to the public November 1. Commissioners will approve the budget in December after two public hearings and several public meetings. The schedule will be listed in mtl, and will be posted on

Watch the entire session: