RIMERSBURG – After several years of speculation, Rimersburg Borough officials on Monday night agreed to withdraw as an official member of the Union Council of Governments, while at the same time increasing Rimersburg’s financial support for the COG’s pool park in Sligo.
The move came as the borough council approved the 2018 budget, which maintains property tax levels.
Rimersburg Borough was one of the founding members of the COG decades ago, and their withdrawal leaves on Sligo Borough and Monroe Township as official members of the organization which was founded as a way for boroughs and townships in the area to work together on a variety of projects. However, as the years passed and members withdrew support, the COG now only functions to manage the pool park.
Rimersburg’s COG representative, council member Lark Palm, brought up the matter at Monday’s meeting, saying that she wanted to increase the amount in the 2018 budget for COG from $3,000 to $5,000. Officials noted that the annual $2,500 contribution from each COG member is routinely increased by the end of the year as the pool park’s debt is calculated. For instance, the COG requested an additional $1,625 from each member this year to offset costs.
Council members Pam Curry and Scott Myers initially balked at Palm’s request to increase the budget number. Myers said he would support the increase only if the borough voted to withdraw from the COG.
“We don’t want to see it fail,” councilman T.L. Stewart said of the local pool park. However, he said that by dropping out of the COG, Rimersburg could limit its liability to whatever amount it wished to donate each year, rather than to be on the hook for whatever debt the park accumulated.
Stewart also noted that just because Rimersburg plans to give $5,000 for 2018, doesn’t mean it has to give that much, or anything at all, in future years.
“If we don’t have the money to do it,” he said.
“I want this to be a continuing thing,” Palm countered, saying that if Rimersburg doesn’t back the park financially, the loss might be insurmountable for the COG.
“I don’t want to say in stone we’re going to give them $5,000 every year,” Stewart responded.
Palm said she felt it would be “backhanded” of Rimersburg to not make an annual contribution, especially since it has always been able to find the necessary money in past years.
Council president Roger Crick said he was torn about withdrawing from the COG, saying that he felt it was important to support the park in the same manner as it is important to support the library in Rimersburg. He said that the “potential open liability” that the park presented, scared him.
Officials noted that increasing the COG donation by $2,000 would force an already deficit budget further into the red.
After finding some additional funds that became available with a change in borough employee health coverage, Palm made a motion to terminate the COG membership and budget $5,000 for the pool park in 2018.
“I have real mixed feelings about this,” Crick said.
Councilman Dan Stewart added, “Boy, there’s not much for the kids.”
Palm said that while she is in “full support of us supporting the pool,” she too is concerned with liability issues the park presents. She said she will fight each year for a hefty donation from the borough for the park.
T.L. Stewart noted that if the park had a compelling reason to ask for more money, the borough could at that time consider the request.
Palm’s motion was approved by a 5-1 vote, with Curry voting in opposition.
Some of the money that was found in the 2018 budget to offset the increased COG donation came from savings the borough expects to receive from changing the employee health insurance plan.
T.L. Stewart said that the Personnel Committee recommended switching to a UPMC Gold PPO plan that would cost the borough roughly $31,379 in the new year — a savings of nearly $10,000 from the current plan.
The new plan will increase the deductible cost for employees; however, Stewart said the borough would pay for the second half of the $1,500 deductible and give employees a 50-cent per hour pay raise to offset the additional costs.
With those changes, the borough’s general fund budget remained in the red, somewhere between $16,000 and $18,000 that will be made up with reserve accounts. Due to the late changes to the budget, the final version of the 2018 spending plan was not available as of press time.
The budget was approved unanimously, along with the tax ordinance which maintains property tax levels in the new year.
Water Leaks Persist
With Rimersburg’s cost of purchasing water from East Brady expected to double in the new year, officials expressed concerns Monday night about ongoing water leak problems.
Crick said that the borough’s water loss, usually around 1 million gallons per month, had jumped to 1.5 million gallons. He said that the water losses alone would result in nearly $5,700 per month in additional costs once the rates rise next year.
“It’s getting very expensive,” he said.
Officials noted that Pennsylvania Rural Water will be coming in next week to help borough crews locate any leaks; however, members said they suspected that a significant portion of the lost water was the result of old water meters that do not accurately reflect the true amount of water used by homes and businesses.
“It’s like chasing a dog’s tail,” Crick said. “It’s a full time job with a 100-year-old system.”
The council has boosted the amount of money in the budget to replace meters, but Crick said he was encouraging the Rimersburg Municipal Authority to pursue grants to pay for a full replacement of water meters in the service area.
• Council approved the purchase of a new sign and bracket for the municipal building along Route 68. The sign will cost approximately $800 from Kline Signs of New Bethlehem.
• The council will hold its reorganization meeting, followed by its regular January meeting, at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 2.