Centre Region COG keeps proposed budget local share increase near 3 percent

jvanderk@centredaily.comOctober 28, 2013 

— As part of a top-10 list of Centre Region Council of Governments budget highlights, elected officials chuckled as Jim Steff pointed out a foam cup keeping the forum room projector from shaking.

Steff, the COG executive director, offered the highlights proposed for 2014 during Monday night’s General Forum, the monthly meeting of the region’s six municipalities. The group approved the budget’s referral to the municipalities for comment, to return to the entire group in a month for final approval.

No. 5 on the list was a handful of expenditure increases Steff chose to feature. One of those is $20,000 for the code agency to replace the projector and purchase a second, allowing for more training to take place in the forum room.

Despite such increases, the overall increase to municipal shares proposed for next year is 3.24 percent, only slightly higher than requested by the officials serving on the COG Finance Committee.

“They’ve done a great job,” said committee chairman and Harris Township Supervisor Bud Graham, praising the COG staff.

Steff called it a group effort, displaying a 3-inch binder with 26 tabs separating the COG’s various funds. The combined proposed budget came in at $24.8 million, and increase over this year’s approximately $22 million budget.

Municipal shares are proposed at $6.2 million, a change of about $195,000 from this year.

No. 10 on Steff’s list involved the Centre Region Metropolitan Planning Organization budget, which is presented as balanced, but has two uncertainties. One is whether Spring Township, contributing 8.32 percent of municipal shares, will continue to participate. That board is scheduled to vote on the matter next week.

“In addition, there’s still not 100 percent agreement about the funding formula,” Steff said. “To keep the 2014 budget on track, the county is kicking in an additional amount of money this year, but they made it clear that was only for one year.”

The county’s base contribution is proposed at $35,776, with a special contribution proposed at $12,465.

At No. 8, years of state funding cuts resulted in a Schlow Centre Region Library request for a 5 percent municipal share increase and a proposed weeklong closure in May.

“The library had a difficult time this year,” Steff said. “But Cathi (Alloway, director) and the library board worked very hard to come up with ways to cut costs.”

Welch Pool came in at No. 3 and Steff praised the officials’ decision to approve spending millions of dollars to renovate the Welch and Park Forest swimming pools in recent years. For the third year in a row, municipal contributions to the pool program are not needed.

“Ron (Woodhead, Parks and Recreation director) and staff did so well, they were able to put $70,000 toward the debt of renovating the pool, which I think is a very good accomplishment.”

Steff’s other highlights included proposals to reduce by 22 percent the cost of building permits for new construction, hire a finance assistant, hire an assistant fire chief for training, spend $72,000 to lease a temporary building for centralized park maintenance and spend 7.9 percent more on health insurance.

Jessica VanderKolk can be reached at 235-3910. Follow her on Twitter @jVanReporter.

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