Zelienople will be the first of four municipalities in the Harmony Fire District to formally consider a half-mill fire tax increase to help fund the fire department's proposed new building.
At its Nov. 9 meeting, borough council authorized advertising Zelienople's proposed $11 million budget, which includes a half-mill hike in the fire tax as well as a nominal increase in the water rate. The electric rate and other taxes are unaffected in the proposed budget.
Borough manager Don Pepe said Nov. 10 that while council had considered ensuring that the other three municipalities would also up their fire rate to the requested 3 mills, the nature of Zelienople being the first in the district to formally consider a budget put it in a place where they had to commit one way or another.
The question, Pepe said, wasn't whether to support the district by way of the tax, but how they wanted to hike it. At the moment, Zelienople's fire tax is 2 mills, a half-mill higher than the other three municipalities.
“We needed to take a position on what we were going to do, and I recommended half a mill in 2021 and, assuming everything went well, another half mill in 2022,” he said.
As such, the borough expects to remit an additional $14,000 to Harmony Fire District if the budget in its current form is passed. If Zelienople goes all the way to 3 mills in 2022, that would bring it in line with what the fire district has asked of the four local governments it covers to help pay for its multimillion dollar proposed station along Route 19 in Jackson Township.
Largely, however, the borough's proposed budget remains unchanged. Its expenses are projected to rise by 3.2%, which Pepe attributed to higher debt service payments as a result of its infrastructure projects.
Pepe also does not expect COVID-19 to have any lasting impact on the borough's finances. While some municipalities must weather the burden of mandated business closures through decreased mercantile or business privilege taxes, the bulk of Zelienople's revenue stems from its electrical fund, which is not affected by the pandemic. “The budget holds everything the way we've been. By virtue of the fact of the electric contracts that we have for purchase, and the fact that we've done so well with those, there is no electric rate increase in 2021, just like there wasn't in 2020. There is a moderate one in water because we received a rate increase from Beaver Falls, which then carries over to our customers,” Pepe said. “At the same time, we were able to continue with what we needed to continue with. We put some projects back in that we didn't have last year, including some curbing, so I think we're OK.”