Not only has the Baldwin Council erased an initial $1-million-plus budget shortfall for 2013, but the borough's leaders have also established—for the first time in memory—a five-year capital improvements plan that sets aside surplus funds for specific borough programs and infrastructure.
After gathering regularly for special public meetings since September, Baldwin Borough's councilmen did what could be their final combing-through of the borough's budget on Tuesday night and agreed by a 6-0 vote to display the budget for public review ahead of its expected future passing. (Councilman Ed Moeller was absent.)
The budget will be made available at the borough municipal complex along Churchview Avenue.
Perhaps the most important part of Baldwin's 2013 budget has yet to be decided on, however. Despite the expectation that the borough's millage rate—currently at 6.61 mills—will decrease, a recent countywide real estate reassessment that raised the value of most Baldwin properties might cause local taxpayers to actually pay more in property tax than they did in 2012.
Keeping the same local millage rate for next year (when the reassessments take effect) would result in a "windfall" of increased tax revenue for the borough, something that is illegal, but the law allows for the borough to adjust its lowered millage rate at 105 percent instead of just 100 percent—in other words, more revenue.
But Allegheny County officials aren't expected to finish making decisions on property value appeals—including ones from Baldwin Borough property owners—until late December, so the Baldwin Council will have to wait until at least then to make a final decision on its 2013 millage rate.
In fact, the county might not finish making their decisions until January 2013.
The expected 105-percent adjustment as well as an expected increase in local earned income tax, among many other things, have gone a long way toward turning an original $1,059,742 deficit into what now looks like a $328,456 surplus, which Baldwin's leaders, in light of income uncertainty as it relates to property assessments, have decided to keep in capital reserve to handle the possibility of a great many successful appeals, or any other unforeseen events.
That notwithstanding, council President David Depretis praised borough Manager John Barrett on Tuesday for helping the borough's elected officials to, as fellow Councilman Bob Collet put it, "trim the fat" off of the original budget, such as $500 less slotted for 2013 for general administration machinery and equipment, $1,000 less for salt storage repairs and maintenance, and dozens of other similar reductions.
Those types of cuts helped to allow for the hiring of another full-time Baldwin police officer and the addition of $50,000 to the borough's road program while still technically lowering the local millage rate.
Barrett thanked the council and returned praise.
"Given the current economic condition, and the rising costs of pensions, diesel and other operational necessities," Barrett said, "this is an accomplishment that should not be overlooked."
And of course, there's that capital improvements plan.
"The intent is to make the (borough)'s general fund just be an operating budget," Barrett said, "get all those capital expenditures out of there.
"We've been relying on the year-end surplus to balance future years' budgets, so this now assigns those unused revenues to fund capital expenditures."
Barrett's hope is to add at least $300,000 in reserve funds to the borough's capital improvements plan every year through 2017.
The council also agreed on Tuesday, 6-0, to publically display its five-year capital improvements plan.
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