No tax increase expected for city, but reserves could be tapped

LOCK HAVEN — City Council took its first vote on a 2018 budget Monday. No tax increases or new taxes are needed to balance the $11 million spending plan as it is currently recommended.

However, some of the city’s reserves are expected to be used next year, said Assistant City Manager Gregory J. Wilson.

Council Vice President Stephen L. Stevenson recommended more dollars be put into reserve, in case an unforeseen situation arises, instead of taking dollars out.

Council voted for a substantial tax increase three years ago, with the intent that taxes would not have to be raised again through 2017, said City Manager Richard W. Marcinkevage. Under the 2018 recommended budget, it is possible to go one more year without a tax hike, he told council.

A public hearing on the budget, during council’s regular meeting Monday evening, heard no comments.

Council is expected to adopt a budget, taking its second and final vote on Dec. 18.

The recommended spending plan totals $11,095,148, which is about $72,000 less than this year’s budget. It is broken down into several funds:

r The General Fund budget totals $4,456,682, which is about $364,000 less than this year’s budget. The police department falls under this budget, and its spending plan is recommended at $1,818,988, compared with the $1,857,852 that is expected to be spent by the end of this year.

r The Water Fund budget is $2,592,875, which is about $224,500 more than this year’s budget.

r The Sewer Fund budget is $3,418,788, which is about $67,000 more than this year’s budget.

r The Airport Operating Fund budget is $298,033, which is about $15,000 more than this year’s budget.

r The Highway Aid Fund budget is $328,770, which is also about $15,000 more than this year’s budget.

Council also looked at a few of the General Fund budget’s sections.

The streets section is recommended to total $248,855, which is close to $46,000 less than what will probably be spent by the end of this year.

This year was one of the most ambitious ones ever for paving, Marcinkevage said, with $795,000 worth of projects, compared with the $305,733 spent in 2016.

Many portions of the hill section of the city were paved in 2016 and 2017, he reported.

The projects proposed for 2018 could total as much as $762,610, he added. Hanna Street is on that list. The city has held off on that particular street until after construction at the First Quality plant is completed, he explained. In addition, $185,262 is budgeted for other paving projects.

Funding for paving comes from a variety of sources, not just the General Fund, the city manager said. These include the gas industry impact fee, federal Community Development Block Grant dollars, liquid fuels funding from the state, and the PennDOT Turnback program.

The city manager also praised foreman Dennis Furl for saving money by doing more tasks in-house, like traffic signal work.

Mayor William E. Baney III asked Furl if he is anxious to move the streets department into the city’s new building, which is the former PennDOT garage.

“We’re getting there,” Furl said.

Vehicle lifts have to be added to the building and the fuel tanks have to be addressed first, Marcinkevage said. The current tanks are so large that fuel in them would go stale before it is used, he said. It seems less expensive to remove the tanks and replace them with portable tanks, he said.

The firefighting budget is recommended at $409,594, which is $7,326 more than what is expected to be spent by the end of this year. It includes about $4,000 in raises for the part-time relief fire truck drivers, something that Chief Robert L. Neff thanked council for, saying these drivers are “of tremendous help” in allowing the department to respond as quickly as it does.

He also thanked council for its previous action of requiring carbon monoxide detectors in rental units, through the city’s rental inspection program.

Since then, there have been several incidents in the city in which a CO detector saved lives, including one on East Water Street a month ago that could have resulted in “a substantial loss of life,” the chief said.

The city planning office’s recommended budget for 2018 is a little different from this year’s, with longtime planner Leonora M. Hannagan retiring at the end of December and Maria Boileau taking over the position. Some of the administrative duties will be shifted to SEDA-Council of Governments in 2018, the city manager said, but the new planner is expected to start picking them up again in future years. The budget also includes $15,000 for Hannagan’s services as a consultant while Boileau continues to learn the ropes.

The $75,449 spending plan is less than the $87,508 expected to be spent this year, but more than the $69,124 budgeted for 2017.

Council has also heard presentations from two non-profit organizations the city normally supports, the Clinton County SPCA and the Ross Library.

The SPCA was represented at last week’s council meeting by Humane Officer Kevin Cierpilowski and board member Al Lugg who presented statistics about what the organization does to combat communities’ problems with unwanted dogs, cats and other pets in Lock Haven and throughout the county. The SPCA also provides services for animals, and the humane officer enforces laws governing cruelty to animals.

The society receives about $65,000 in donations annually, according to a letter from SPCA Board President Mary Jo Williamson. It receives no state or federal funding for its mission, she wrote.

The annual operational costs, however, amount to $295,000.

The SPCA requested a city disbursement of $10,000 for 2018.

Executive Director Diane Whitaker represented Ross Library at Monday’s meeting, telling council that 5,908 Lock Haven residents are registered borrowers. With some families having only one library card for all family members to use, that number is most likely higher, she said. An additional 745 Lock Haven University students also use the library at 232 W. Main St., she said.

She thanked council for its past support with maintenance of the building and the library van which is used in the Library on Wheels program. That program reaches more than 748 children in six day care centers and more than 1,600 seniors in 14 senior facilities, she said.

Through the city, the library recently received an $88,890 Keystone Grant, which will be used for electrical updates and to upgrade windows in the building addition.

Whitaker also is retiring at the end of this year, and she introduced City Council to her successor, Tammy L. Garrison.