As a municipality, Mt. Lebanon seems to be weathering the COVID-19 storm financially.
While acknowledging some negative impacts of the pandemic on local revenue streams, finance director Andrew McCreery offered some good news under the circumstances during an economic update he presented to Mt. Lebanon commissioners.
The deadline for paying real estate taxes without a penalty was pushed back to the last day of the year, three months later than usual, and officials were concerned about an adverse effect on income.
“That has not been the case. We’re actually $284,000 above in cash collections to date through July 31” as compared with the previous year, McCreery said at the commission’s Aug. 11 discussion session.
On another positive note, Mt. Lebanon is poised to receive $250,000 in local government support through the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act funding, which is administered through Allegheny County. That matches the amount allocated to Bethel Park. Upper St. Clair is listed on the county website as receiving $175,000.
Also in Mt. Lebanon, furloughs have resulted in about $220,000 in savings on personnel expenses, and the municipality is deferring the filling of some budgeted-for positions in the fire department and inspections offices. Plus some capital expenditures, adding up to $200,000, are delayed.
Overall for 2020, McCreery is projecting $100,000 to $200,000 from the municipality’s unassigned fund balance would be necessary to balance revenues with expenditures.
“We have a really good tax base here,” he said. “Over the years, we’ve done a good job of managing that tax base so that we can weather storms like this.”
Municipal manager Keith McGill said Mt. Lebanon Public Library has the potential of receiving money allocated to offset lost Allegheny County Regional Asset District revenue, and Medical Rescue Team South Authority, based in Mt. Lebanon, is applying for special funding available for emergency management services.
According to McCreery, assistant fire chief Sean Daniels has been tracking expenses that should be eligible for $50,000 in reimbursements.
Many sources of municipal revenue, though, are lagging because of conditions caused by COVID-19.
So far in 2020, Mt. Lebanon Recreation Department reported a 57% drop in revenue against the same time frame last year, while expenditures have decreased 25%. McCreery gave a projection of $200,000-$300,000 “for the revenues not covering those expenses within recreation, overall.”
“Why those don’t equate is because facilities were still open even though nobody was there, so grass was still being cut. The ice rink still needed to be maintained. You can’t have our facilities falling apart,” he said. “In addition, some full-time salaries are expected to be covered by some of the revenue we lost.”
Although Mt. Lebanon Ice Center reopened July 6, attendance is sparse.
“It’s a fraction of the use right now, really limited to facility rentals and one figure skating program at this time,” McCreery said. “That is our revenue generator, if you look at the entire recreation department on its own, and losing that revenue will be a significant impact.”
Regarding municipal taxes, he said those on earned income, real estate transfers and sales are among those running behind compared with 2019.
Following McCreery’s presentation, Commissioner Leeann Foster expressed concerns about the future.
“This is all what I see as relatively good news, but I worry about 2022, 2023,” she said. “I see this as a long-term recession and a long-term recovery, from what I’m seeing out there and talking to people, both on the labor side and the corporate side. It’s not going to get better anytime soon.”
McCreery agreed, but offered additional positivity.
“Yes, I think it is far-reaching, especially in our EIT variability,” he said about the potential impact on the earned income tax. “But that’s why we have real estate tax and that vehicle, as well, to make sure that we’re balanced there, to make sure we’re on solid footing.”