According to Ligonier Township manager Terry Carcella, local governments must to balance fiscal responsibility with providing the most cost-effective services to their residents.
He has kept that goal in mind when planning for next year, preparing a draft budget that is balanced, albeit with help from a tax hike.
Carcella on Tuesday presented the Ligonier Township board of supervisors with a $2,655,673 preliminary budget for 2020 that proposes a 1-mill property tax increase, from 4 to 5 mills.
Carcella expects some revenue boosts in next year’s budget, including a minimum of $50,000 in grants, possibly through the Westmoreland Conservation District’s Dirt, Gravel and Low Volume Roads Program, although the money could come from other sources. He also projected some carryover funds from 2019: $50,000 for stormwater management and another $50,000 from the general account.
The township would not replace former financial administrative assistant Roxanne Shadron’s position full-time, instead redistributing that money across the budget. However, officials are considering hiring another public works employee and adding a fifth administrative position.
The draft budget also allocates $30,000 toward acquiring land to extend the Ligonier Valley Trail and another $40,000 for equipment purchases.
Carcella said he incorporated a 6% jump in health care costs, although insurance only applies to the public works department. He also anticipated increased costs for the Ligonier Valley Police Department.
Other budget expenses noted were road sealing, tree removal and insurance for Ligonier Beach, although Carcella said he is still negotiating rates with the township’s insurance carrier for the latter.
Carcella will have some final numbers by the end of October. The finance committee will then review the 2020 budget and recommend any changes for the supervisors to consider at their Nov. 12 meeting and advertise for adoption.
In other financial news, Ligonier Township plans to apply for a $25,000 demolition grant from the Westmoreland County Land Bank to remove two flood-damaged buildings at Ligonier Beach: the pump house and shed alongside the pool.
The township is still in the process of closing the sale on the defunct swimming pool and restaurant along Route 30 near Laughlintown.
The swimming pool’s status remains in limbo. The Bulletin confirmed with zoning and community development officer Jim Nieusma that the pool is at least not part of this planned demolition.
Nieusma made it clear that Ligonier Township would not take over the pool, but welcomed ideas from the community about having an outside organization or nonprofit operate it.
“We’ve got some people that are just fighting to keep that pool. If they can come up with a way to fund it, if they can get a nonprofit together that will run it at not a loss... We can’t sink money into it all the time to keep it going, so if they can come up with something, we’ll entertain the idea. But it’s on them. The township itself is not going to operate the pool,” Nieusma said after the meeting.
The township is considering upgrading the municipal complex on Route 711 North to be more energy-efficient. Code enforcement officer Keith Ashley said he recently contacted Trane, a Pittsburgh-based vendor, to inquire about their services in this area.
Trane surveyed the entire building and estimated the cost for replacing all the electrical fixtures and lightbulbs at $89,316. The township would qualify for a rebate of more than $4,000 from West Penn Power.
The supervisors authorized the recreation board to advertise for bids for a fishing platform at the future Mill Creek Memorial Park located near the Ligonier Valley Trail Bridge.
Mary Laughlin is the winner of Ligonier Township’s logo contest, as the supervisors selected her design of a small mountain chain from the final four candidates.
Solicitor Michael Korns sought the supervisors’ direction on having the planning commission tackle a series of zoning amendments and other ordinances, but the board tabled the list until next month.
These potential projects include: drafting zoning ordinance amendments covering oil and gas drilling operations, regulations for solar panel arrays and a zoning map change along Nicely Road; creating a timber harvesting ordinance; and adopting parts of the International Property Maintenance Code under Pennsylvania’s Uniform Construction Code.
The oil and gas modifications would be based on a 17-page series of changes researched and developed by the environmental subcommittee under the Ligonier Valley Comprehensive Plan Steering Committee. The proposed regulations address oil or natural gas well operations, particularly those created by hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking.”
Supervisor Stephanie Verna pressed for more detail on the potential oil and gas amendments before proceeding, so the board will invite the planning commission to discuss the matter at its next work session scheduled for 4:30 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 22.
“People took time and research and thoughtfully put together a proposal. It went before the joint comprehensive plan committee. They decided to move forward with that, propose that to the planning commission. I understand the caution, that this needs to be reviewed. I understand its incentive. But I think at a minimum the supervisors need to formally see what that list was and respond to it,” said Verna.
The supervisors will also have to wait to advertise and vote on a new stormwater management ordinance for Ligonier Township until Westmoreland County’s model stormwater ordinance is ready.
Township engineer Dorothy Boring of the Markosky Engineering Group said the Westmoreland Conservation District’s ordinance is currently under review by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.
The supervisors spent about 15 minutes in executive session at the start of the meeting discussing litigation and real estate matters. They also voted to continue the township’s annual $1,500 donation to the Ligonier Valley Library.
Ligonier Township will follow suit with Ligonier Borough, hosting trick-or-treating from 6 to 8 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 31.