In 2008 Mount Oliver homeowners paid the fourth highest tax rate of the 130 municipalities in Allegheny County (www.alleghenycounty.us/treasure/millmuni.asp). For 2009, Mount Oliver Council, with a sleight of hand and apparently some magic dust, announces Mount Oliver homeowners will have no tax increase (South Pittsburgh Reporter, November 25, 2008).
The problem with this is that in 2008 a homeowner with a house assessed at $40,000 in Mount Oliver paid $540 in borough property taxes including trash collection and in 2009 the same homeowner now pays the same $540 plus an additional $120 for trash collection. This is a "no tax increase" tax increase of 22.2 percent and now the highest tax rate in all of Allegheny County.
Property taxes received are allocated by mills for specific functions. Through 2008 certain mills were dedicated for general services and police protection. Other mills were dedicated for the Mount Oliver Volunteer Fire Department, street repairs and maintenance, and debt reduction. Additionally two mills paid for residential trash pickup. Each mill represents approximately $70,000.00 and this $140,000.00 ensured the collection of the fees for the trash service.
Years ago the borough attempted to collect quarterly trash service fees directly from the property owner. This proved not to work as a large number of property owners simply did not pay the trash bill. Trash collection fees were then added at the rate of two mills to the property tax bill to ensure collection.
For 2009 we are now back to the same unproven method of attempting to collect the trash service fees. It did not work then. Why should it work now?
If the same collection rates occur in 2009 as the borough experienced when it attempted to collect trash service charges in the past the situation gets even worse. Waste Management will insist to be paid by the borough regardless of how much is actually collected for trash pickup. The borough will not have enough to pay Waste Management. Then another "no tax increase" tax increase will be placed upon the homeowners.
The two mills, which had previously been allocated for trash service, have been removed from the 13.5 mill distribution for 2009 yet the tax rate remains the same. Where did the $140,000 that was previously allocated for trash service go?
If there is some spectacular new use for this $140.000 which greatly benefits the taxpayers let us all see it. We should all see where our tax money is being spent. If there is a reason the taxpayers are not going to be told where this $140,000 is going, do the taxpayers have to wonder if this is Mount Oliver Council's "bailout money" for financial irresponsibility?
If it is the latter, the only "bailout" for the borough is some day for the borough to become part of the City of Pittsburgh. And this has been discussed in recent years. "Bailout" the borough and there is no more council. No more police department. No more fire department. No more street department. And then where are we?
Our nation is in a recession and millions of American workers out of work. The private and public sectors are making hard decisions every day to keep costs under control and to survive. Most businesses and industries and almost every state, county, and municipality nationwide are making tough budgetary decisions including spending and personnel cuts. Yet it appears Mount Oliver has more employees and vehicles today than just a few years ago.
Clara asked, "Where's the beef?" I ask, "Where's the $140,000?"
(The writer is a former member of the Mount Oliver Borough Council)