Kittanning Borough Council took steps last night toward better fiscal management and economic development of the borough.
In a one-hour special meeting, Michael Foreman, the regional local government policy specialist with the Southwest Regional Office of the PA Department of Community & Economic Development office in Pittsburgh, unpacked several programs available to assist with challenges that face many small communities in western Pennsylvania.
Foreman introduced the “Early Intervention Program” which will enable Council to bring in consultants to create a five-year strategic plan.
“The Early Intervention Program is an intermediary step to address challenges before it takes control of you,” Foreman said. “Most commonly, these are things like your tax base is not growing; you have unmet infrastructure needs such as storm water issues; or you have challenges with road reconstruction.”
Council Vice-President and Finance Chairman David Croyle outlined the need for such a program.
“We have borrowed $700,000 to pave streets. Before that money is paid back, those same streets will need repaired again. We need a multi-year plan for addressing streets and alleys. I was codes chairman and met with our Planning Commission to begin a comprehensive plan. I realized we did not have the expertise that was necessary to create this plan. We need to address deterioration of our storm sewers. For all these reasons, we need to be in this program,” he said.
Croyle also pointed to the success of Ford City, who began this plan in 2014.
“They recently received a grant to assist with their comprehensive plan that will cost more than $90,000 to create,” Croyle said.
Council President Kim Fox pointed out collective bargaining contracts with unions that have limited necessary budgetary adjustments in terms of hiring and huge insurance rates.
Croyle also cited concerns with ever-increasing promises of increased wages without increased income.
“We are currently at 27.5 mills – the maximum is 30. We promise wage increases so where will we cut expenses so we don’t have to raise taxes? It has to come from somewhere,” he said.
Ford City council voiced similar concerns in 2014, giving examples of other communities. One such example was Joseph E. Sinnott, who has been mayor of Erie since 2006, who voiced similar concerns at the beginning of his tenure, stating the city was “put into a great disadvantage” when it came to collective bargaining and arbitration matters, such as with police or office employees.
By entering into the Early Intervention Program, Kittanning will be eligible for a grant of up to $100,000 that will pay for consultants to create the five-year plan. Although the grant initially calls for a 50% match, Foreman said most municipalities can qualify to have the match reduced to just 10%. He estimated the cost of hiring consultants to be approximately $75,000.
Foreman also said that training at no cost is included in the program.
Council voted 5-0 to enter into the program. Councilmen Andy Peters, Wilbur Stitt, and Chris Schiano were absent.
Council also agreed to have Foreman assist in the review of applicants for the borough manager position. He outlined that candidates would be scored on a specialized matrix that has been used in many municipalities and that information turned over to Council for review. Applications are due May 20.