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City's 2018 Budget Holds Line on Taxes, Fees

By Jason Togyer
The Tube City Almanac
December 07, 2017
Posted in: McKeesport and Region News

(Above: Click to download McKeesport's 2018 budget. PDF reader required.)

There are few surprises in McKeesport's 2018 budget, which holds the line on taxes while increasing spending on capital expenses.

At Wednesday's meeting, city council passed the budget on a 7-0 vote. Property taxes remain at 6.26 mills on buildings and 18.5 mills on land.

One mill represents $1 in taxes paid for every $1,000 for which a property is assessed. Land is typically assessed at a much lower value than buildings.

While calculating a so-called blended millage can be tricky, a house assessed at $48,000 by Allegheny County would pay approximately $300 in city property taxes in 2017.

Council President Rich Dellapenna Jr. said Wednesday night he's "very pleased" with the $23.1 million spending plan. "I give the mayor, the administration and (Finance Director) Tasha Phelps a lot of credit for all of the hard work they've put into it," he said.

Municipal service fees --- primarily used to pay for garbage collection --- remain at $75 per household per quarter, with a $15 discount for senior citizens.

The rental ordinance continues to require a $50 annual registration fee from landlords and a $50 biannual fire inspection, but Cherepko said neither are intended as money-making enterprises for the city. "They are strictly cost-neutral," he said.

"We will continue to tighten the budget and will reduce the city's payroll through attrition," Cherepko said.

He praised city employees, especially unionized clerical and public-works employees, who are represented by Teamsters Local Union No. 205 in White Oak, for being flexible in their work arrangements.

"When someone retires, we haven't even come close to replacing them," Cherepko said. "And yet these employees have been willing to work with the city and take on additional duties. I think it speaks volumes about their dedication."

Dellapenna echoed Cherepko's praise for the city's rank-and-file. "I give kudos to all of the city employees for accepting concessions and taking on extra work," Dellapenna said.

The 2018 budget does represent approximately a $3.2 million increase over the 2017 budget of $19.9 million.

Most of the increase in spending is from a one-time, $2.5 million withdrawal that Mayor Michael Cherepko asked council to make from the proceeds of the sale of the city's sewerage authority.

The sale to Pennsylvania-American Water Co., which the state Public Utility Commission values at $159 million, is expected to close before council's next meeting, Cherepko said.

The city is expected to net more than $40 million once approximately $110 million of the sewerage authority's debts are retired.

Cherepko has asked council to use the $2.5 million on an extensive program in 2018 of blight removal and street paving to address years of deferred maintenance.

"We've got to address the aesthetics and infrastructure in our neighborhoods," he said. "We must rebuild our tax base, and to do that, we've got to improve our neighborhoods."

Officials have estimated, conservatively, that upwards of 800 houses are abandoned throughout the city.

The vacant houses "not only bring down the morale of the community, (they) breed crime," Cherepko said.

Cherepko has promised the project, to include the demolition of more than 150 vacant houses in both 2018 and 2019, will touch every neighborhood of the city.

The mayor is hopeful that tearing down empty houses will encourage residents to purchase the vacant lots and expand their own yards.

"It's also a chance for us to welcome new neighbors who may choose to build modern houses," Cherepko said.

Dellapenna said he's excited about the expansive capital improvement campaign, which Cherepko has called the "McKeesport Rising" project.

"It's definitely a first since I've been here," said the council president, who expects the project to start at the city's main streets and thoroughfares, and then work inward through its neighborhoods.

Originally published December 07, 2017.

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