The 2021 municipal budget Mt. Lebanon commissioners plan to approve during their Dec. 8 meeting will maintain the township’s property tax rate at 4.71 mills and keep all other municipal taxes at their current levels.
Commissioners met four times in November to make determinations on a final version of the budget, following the Nov. 1 release of municipal manager Keith McGill’s recommended budget, which calls for $35.7 million in operating expenditures for the coming year.
At the commission’s final budget workshop, conducted virtually and available for streaming Monday, a major topic of discussion was the opening of the Mt. Lebanon Swim Center for the 2021 season.
The recommended budget projects $441,700 in revenue, but the surge in COVID-19 cases since the document’s formulation has caused municipal officials to re-evaluate the potential expense of opening the pool.
“We’re going to lose money,” said Craig Grella, commission president. “The question is, how much money do we lose? And reasonably, at what level can the pool be operated?”
Commissioners are determined to try to ensure that as many community resources as possible, especially the pool and public library, are available for residents as the continuation of the COVID-19 pandemic takes its toll on their mental and physical well-being.
The swim center generally operates at a loss, even under optimal conditions. The 2021 projection is a net cost of $61,640, based on the assumption of the ability to host patrons at normal capacity.
If pandemic-related restrictions are put into in place next summer, the resulting drops in attendance could have a significantly negative impact on revenues and, by extension, operating costs.
“For 50% capacity, based on our estimates, it would be an additional $214,000. And at 25% capacity, that’s an additional $320,000,” finance director Andrew McCreery said, referencing costs above the figure in the recommended budget. “The big piece to this is, if you open the pool, you have to pay for everything.”
Lifeguards, for example, would have to be compensated at approximately the same level no matter how many patrons were allowed inside the swimming center at any given time.
Likewise, other fixed costs need to be taken into consideration.
“The other major assumption there is the pool not opening in any capacity,” McCreery said.
If that turns out to be the case, the municipality still would have a cost obligation of more than $50,000, based on allocations for full-time staffing, maintenance and management of the swim center.
To help mitigate whatever degree the loss, commissioners decided to allocate an extra $200,000 toward its operation in the 2021 budget.
As for Mt. Lebanon Public Library, the amount of municipal funding for next year is $1,535,530, a $76,900 increase over 2020.
Leeann Foster, the commission’s liaison to the library board, called for continued support of the institution, which has faced numerous limitations because of COVID-19.
“This has been one of the cornerstones of our constituents getting through this pandemic, and the library should be a place that we want to thrive right now,” she said.
If needed, additional money for the library would be available from the unassigned fund balance the municipality carries for unanticipated expenditures. The total is about $4.83 million, according to figures presented at the final budget workshop, and represents 12.7% of projected expenditures for 2021.
That figure stood at 14.9% as of 2019, and by law the municipality has a floor of 10%. McCreery said the goal is to maintain the unassigned fund balance in the range of 12% to 15%.