The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Local News

October 16, 2013

Portage holding the line on taxes

PORTAGE — Tax rates for 2014 are expected to stay at six mills in Portage Township.

At the township supervisors special budget workshop meeting Wednesday, preliminary figures suggested a slight decrease in spending.

But otherwise, it’s business as usual.

“We saved a few bucks here and there, such as health care,” said Supervisor Rick Olshavsky. “And we’ll have a hair increase in the earned income (tax).”

Supervisors discussed a rise in earned income tax – $275,000 for 2014, which is an estimated $17,000 jump in revenue from 2012.

An ordinance went into effect at the beginning of January last year, raising the tax to 1 percent.

Combined with real estate taxes, the township expects to take in $468,600 next year.

Fluctuations in the township’s spending behavior across all budgetary categories were slight.

While tax collector payments will stay at $7,500, the township’s Act 511 tax collection agency, Berkheimer Associates, has allowed the township to relax spending there from $8,200 to $6,500, according to Supervisor Rick Olshavsky.

“They’re doing it in a more cost effective manner for us,” he said.

The township’s utilities are getting a $2,000 bump upward, due to new street lights.

New hydrants in the Springhill Road and Jamestown Road areas will put water and sewage at $800 on the budget.

The township’s electric bill is dropping from $25,000 to $20,000.

The cost of workman’s compensation continues to rise, causing a spike from $11,000 in 2011 and $14,000 in 2012.

This year’s bill, which recently arrived, was $17,500, although the township had budgeted only $12,000.

Road and bridge repairs will remain at $30,000, as in previous years. The township has spent roughly $20,000 this year.

Next year marks the final payment in a nearly 20-year debt service the township has been paying since the mid-1990s for an oil spill at its garage when, Olshavsky said, the township did not respond quickly enough.

A nearby stream was contaminated,  and the bill for the state Department of Environmental Protection’s cleanup crew was $238,000.

Olshavsky said that the year after the spill was probably the last time the township has raised taxes. The township’s threshold is 14 mills.

“I think we’ve been pretty frugal,” he said. “Buying basically what we need and not a whole lot more.

“Our windmill money really helps. That keeps our tax constant.”

Olshavsky said Portage Township was one of the municipalities to be included in the first wind farm ordinance filed on behalf of Gamesa Corp. in 2005.

The township has received roughly $75,000 each year since.

Supervisors plan to meet again after the Nov. 13 monthly meeting to take another look at next year’s budget.

Supervisor Ben Selapack said that the budgeting process requires some  ability to make predictions because the type of repairs township crews must perform can often be unpredictable.

“We try to get some sense to what we're going through (in one category) to decide on this figure (in another category),” said Olshavsky.

Justin Dennis is a multimedia reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter at www.Twitter.com/JustinDennis.

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