The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

November 6, 2012

Boosting taxes not an option

City holds line for 2013, but not optimistic about 2014

The Tribune-Democrat

— City of Johnstown officials last week had good news and bad news for those who pay city property taxes.

Johnstown’s preliminary operating budget for 2013 calls for no increase in that levy. That was the good news, and, frankly, a decision we believe had to made.

Officials could have stopped there, patted themselves on the back and moved on.

To their credit, they did not.

The financial picture, while strained for 2013, gets tougher in 2014 and they want residents to know now that there will be a lot to consider over the next 12 months.

“I will tell you that (bypassing a tax boost) did not come by easily,” City Manager Kristen Denne said. “And, I can honestly tell you, this is probably the last year that we’re going to be able to do that.”

While we understand her reasoning, we don’t see it that way. For government and school officials, increasing taxes is the easy way out when expenditure and revenue figures don’t jibe. But boosting taxes are not an option in this region when households are paying higher costs for food, clothing, utilities and fuel – both for heating their homes and running their autos – while salaries are stagnant and many workers are jobless.

City leaders should get a 2013 plan in place and then waste no time looking to the future and how another budget can be adopted without hitting on taxpayers.

We applaud Ms. Denne, finance director Carlos Gunby and others including council members for putting together a package that holds the line on taxes for 2013, even as planners project spending millions more than in 2012 to deal with forced sewage updates.

Council will fine-tune the financial plan during six budget workshops in November.

Final approval is expected in December.

It would be a good time for residents to speak up, not only about this year’s budget but about what the future holds. Constructive suggestions certainly would be welcome.

After eight years as a distressed city, Pittsburgh has been holding hearings with a goal of exiting state Act 47 oversight.

Of those recommending leaving Act. 47 is Jim Roberts, the same man monitoring distressed Johnstown’s financial picture. Johnstown has been distressed since 1992.

Pittsburgh apparently has clawed its way to financial recovery, at least many of its top officials, including Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, see it that way.

When was the last time Johnstown officials were as optimistic about the city’s financial picture?