The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Local News

December 30, 2013

City increases tax to add police

JOHNSTOWN — Johnstown citizens will pay more in earned income tax – but also receive additional police protection – in 2014.

On Monday, City Council unanimously approved a $36.12 million budget that included an increase in the residents’ EIT from 1.3 percent to 1.5. The change is expected to bring an extra $400,000 into Johnstown’s coffers. An individual making $30,000 will pay $60 more per year. The money will go directly toward hiring two new police officers, along with a codes enforcement officer, and addressing pension obligations.

The financial plan also calls for spending $10.92 million through the general fund and $11.62 million for sewer improvements and maintenance. Almost $3.5 million will be spent on debt services. Another

$2.98 million has been set aside to fund the municipal pension program.

Johnstown’s budget is balanced without increasing property taxes or the EIT on nonresidents.

“We continue to approve and implement real budgets with real numbers and understanding the real impact behind those numbers,” said Carlos Gunby, city finance director. “It’s utmost critical. I think that’s one of the steps that was taken here today. It’s another year’s budget that is something that’s achievable, but also sets some standards for the next year that we have to live up to.”

Council decided to hire the police officers in response to a report issued by the ad hoc Johnstown Crime and Violence Commission during the summer. The commission, which was created by council, determined the city had seen a sharp increase in assaults and burglaries between 2010 and 2012, caused, in large part, due to an increase in heroin trafficking. One of the commission’s recommendations was to hire additional officers.

“The public out there, they all cried about we need some more police protection. ... This is what we did,” said Councilman William Gentile.

Deputy Mayor Frank Janakovic added, “We were handed a Crime Commission report, and I’d like to thank everybody for that, but we also weren’t given the dollars to be able to do that. So, it was back on all of us here to decide and put our necks out because I think it’s important for the safety  – I’ll say it again – of our citizens. Money can’t bring lives back.”

Councilman Joseph Taranto supported increasing the police manpower and voted in favor of the budget. However, he also expressed concerns about how the decision could affect the city a few years from now. New officers would start off on the lowest pay scale. They would reach the top rate in their fourth years, which, according to Gunby, could require needing about $15,000 more apiece per year to pay them compared with what it will cost in year one.

Gunby thinks the expense could be offset by a reduction in overtime. Taranto feels the decision could lead to another bump  in taxes.

“We know by increasing our head count we are setting ourselves up for a tax increase for the people who sit in these seats in three years from now, correct?” Taranto said. “I mean everybody understands that. We’ve made the discussion before that we’re always making excuses why we’re increasing taxes because of people who sat in these seats before us. We’re those people for tomorrow. We’re making that decision now about a tax increase later.”

Taranto recently proposed several ways to address costs, such as creating a municipal service fee; requiring all city workers to live in town, which would increase the tax base; exploring the possibility of using some ancillary or part-time department members; and finding alternative funding sources.

“That takes planning,” said Councilwoman Marie Mock. “Unfortunately, we didn’t have the time to plan accordingly. Could we plan now for the future? Absolutely. Maybe we can change things.”

Dave Sutor is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/Dave_Sutor.

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