Schirf gives farewell; challenges council

When outgoing mayor Bill Schirf waxed reflective at Wednesday’s City Council meeting, saying the city needs to “move forward,” urging council to exit the state’s Act 47 distress program as quickly as possible, it sounded like a farewell.

Turns out it was – although there will be one more meeting this year to adopt the 2014 budget that council introduced Wednesday.

Schirf may not make that meeting Dec. 11 if his wife is in the hospital for an operation that hasn’t been scheduled yet, he said afterwards. So just in case, he gave a kind of valedictory.

“Final thoughts,” he said, when there were only a few people left in Council Chambers. “I challenged them.”

The city needed to enter Act 47 at the end of last year to avoid “the financial abyss,” he said.

But it can use the revenue-generating and cost-saving benefits of the program to get out, he said.

“There’s hope,” he said.

Councilman Erik Cagle seemed to catch the spirit.

“We’ve been tasked with some tough initiatives this year,” he said.

But council is hitting “things head on,” he said.

“Sometimes it takes guts,” he added.

Schirf said he has a plan he’ll present to council after he’s out of office, when contract negotiations with the unions are over and after the city’s Government Study Commission writes a home rule charter – which can only happen if it chooses to recommend home rule, which the Act 47 recovery plan recommends as an Act 47 exit strategy.

Wednesday’s $28.3 million tentative budget calls for no tax increase – although it proposes a shift in earned income tax. General property taxes will remain the same – 30 mills for general purposes, 12.09 mills for debt, 6.72 mills for recreation and 0.1 mill for shade trees, for a total of 49.72 mills.

It’s all applied to land, in the city’s land-value tax system. That means a total millage for land of 388.086.

For a property with assessed land value of $1,400, that would translate into a tax bill of $543.

Earned income tax will remain virtually the same, although regular EIT will go down a little, while EIT for pension support will go up a little.

Regular EIT for city residents will go down 0.05 percent to 0.9 percent.

Regular EIT for residents of other municipalities working in the city will also go down 0.05 percent to 0.3 percent. Pension EIT for both residents and nonresidents will go up 0.05 percent to 0.25 percent. The Act 47 recovery plan mandates the regular EIT values specifically.

The recovery plan speaks of the pension surtax increase generally.

But council members have endorsed that surtax increase, according to a memo from General Manager Omar Strohm.

The city will go to Blair County Court Friday for permission to exceed the state’s soft cap of 25 mills on general property tax and for permission to exceed state caps on regular EIT at 0.5 percent.

The city has been at the state’s hard cap of 30 mills in property tax for years.

The city exceeded the EIT cap last year by mandate of the Act 47 recovery plan.

Until last year, the court held the tax hearing after New Year’s, but EIT approvals need to be done before New Year’s, so employers can begin deductions for the new year.