The Herald, Sharon, Pa.

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June 30, 2014

City pressed on Act 47

FARRELL — It’s no surprise that the proposed amendments to the Municipalities Financial Recovery Act have put some pressure on the City of Farrell.

Referred to as Act 47, it provides state assistance to municipalities declared to be in a distressed state. Passed in 1987, Farrell has been in it since the beginning.

“We still need time,” Mayor Olive McKeithan said of the amendments at the last council meeting.

The amendments, which passed through the House and is now with the Senate, most notably will force municipalities out of the program after five years.

The five years would begin after their most recent recovery plan or amendment for those already with distressed status.

“We’re sitting up here, sitting ducks,” Councilman Robert Burich said at the meeting.

For Farrell, that start time would be May 2013, City Manager Michael Ceci told council members. This could mean that the city would lose about $250,000 from commuter taxes, collected from people who work in Farrell but don’t live there.

“They’re changing the game, changing the time frame,” he said.

In order to start planning for the potentially looming deadline, Ceci pitched a few options to city council so they could begin thinking and discussing Farrell’s financial future.

“We’re looking at options, and I’m just giving you options,” he said.

The first option includes raising real estate taxes by 9.25 mills. A mill is $1 for every $1,000 of assessed property value.

The next choice was raising the income tax to 3 percent.

The final option included a lot of budget cutting, including closing the library, freezing and cutting salaries, adjusting health care, not filling a position in the fire department that will be opened after a retirement in September and a one-time retiree buyout.

This option, though, would probably have the biggest noticeable affect on Farrell residents, Ceci said.

“You’re going to affect folks,” he said.

The biggest chunk of Farrell’s budget, 42 percent, goes to the Mercer County Southwest Regional Police Department. Ceci said he’s waiting to get numbers from the department that exclude Shenango Township’s assessment, after supervisors voted to advertise for a police chief to lead their own department.

“I’m confident this remains a viable option,” Ceci said of the regional police department.

“I’m not about to give up on it,” Burich, who holds a seat on the police commission, agreed.

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