MONESSEN – Residents of Monessen are facing a 6-mill tax increase next year, but that increase may be barely enough to keep the city afloat financially.
During a special meeting on Friday, the council approved to advertise a $4,072,588 proposed general fund budget that would bring the city’s property tax totals to the maximum 30 mills. Councilman David Feehan and Councilwoman Lois Thomas voted in favor of the proposed 2019 budget while Councilman Anthony Orzechowski cast a nay vote. Mayor Matt Shorraw and Councilman Gil Coles were once again absent for the proceedings.
Orzechowski said he supported the decision of his fellow council members but voted against the proposed budget because of “personal feelings.” He said that without the tax increase, the city would face a $300,000 deficit.
“I’m being transparent and there are no surprises,” said Orzechowski. “We will be in the same position again next year unless we make some drastic changes. You just can’t put a Band-Aid on this. You have to fix the problem to solve the problem.”
Orzechowski added that the city is struggling to keep pace with rising expenses and infrastructure improvements.
“We are looking at more than $1.3 million in retirement/pension payments and $891,600 for our police department,” he said. “That’s nearly half of our budget. Plus, the cost of health care is skyrocketing. We can’t maintain what we are doing at this rate.”
Other major expenses include $529,000 for sewer line usage and $352,200 for public works. Payroll will cost the city approximately $60,000 per month while the debt service repayment will be $500,000.
Business owner Ron Mozer was one of 15 Monessen residents who attended the meeting and said that commercial property tax reassessments might be a way to increase tax revenues. He noted that ArcelorMittal, a multibillion-dollar company, allegedly paid just $10,521 in city taxes this past year, despite purportedly making $50 million in upgrades to its Monessen facility in 2012.
City solicitor Joe Dalfonso replied, “We will look into this, but let it be known that we have no ill will toward ArcelorMittal.”
The proposed budget will be available for public review in city hall before the council makes a final vote Dec. 27.
Orzechowski urged all residents to review budget and offer their suggestions.
“I hope you will come here and say, “Can we brainstorm and think of a way to do something better?’ I hope we can put partisanship aside, because at the end of the day, this town is almost dead. The city can’t keep going like it used to,” said Orzechowski.
Also, during the meeting, the council voted to accept an Economic Development and Community Development Initiatives Grant in the amount of $147,000. This vote authorizes Orzechowski and Feehan to sign the necessary contract and invoice for the emergency demolition of the nuisance building at 279 Schoonmaker Ave.
Orzechowski thanked Pennsylvania State Sen. Pat Stefano for helping the city to find funding for the demolition project, which will begin this month.
Orzechowski also criticized Shorraw for posting comments on Facebook earlier in the week, alleging that the city didn’t plow icy roads because council refused to pay overtime for street department staff.
“The council’s top priority is safety,” said Orzechowski. “What happened was that the streets were never called out; that’s always done by 911 and the police. There was a mix-up or it just didn’t happen. But we have someone out there who doesn’t have the guts to show up. He has the gall to hide behind things and tell people that publicly?”
Former mayor Lou Mavrakis told the council that it should once again petition the governor and Legislature to have Shorraw removed from office for failing to attend council meetings.
Orzechowski replied “We plan to,” while Feehan added that he is “redoing the letter.”
Shorraw has missed 19 consecutive meetings since May 10 while Coles has attended only one meeting since February.