Uniontown’s new mayor, sworn in last week, was unsuccessful in his request to reopen the city’s 2020 budget.
Mayor Bill Gerke moved to reopen the budget, adopted in a 4-0 vote at a special meeting on Dec. 23, saying he wanted to review the financial plan with council members and get their reasoning on various aspects of the budget.
None of the three council members present seconded Gerke’s motion. Council member Joe Czuchan said after the meeting that he was satisfied with the budget, which kept the city’s tax levy at 12.235 mills for 2020, or $122.35 for each $10,000 in assessed value for properties in the city.
Steve Neubauer, owner of Neubauer’s Flowers & Market House, had urged council to reopen the budget, calling for greater transparency from the city government.
Gerke was also in the minority in council’s vote to retain K2 Engineering as the city’s engineering firm. Gerke voted against doing so, while Czuchan, Martin Gatti and Steve Visocky supported keeping K2 Engineering.
After the meeting, Gerke said he wanted to see whether there were other firms that could perform the same service as K2 Engineering.
“(I wanted to) see what else is out there,” Gerke said. “It seems like everything’s status quo in the city.”
Gerke, Gatti, Czuchan and Visocky found agreement in 4-0 votes to retain Tim Witt as the city’s solicitor and advertising for bid a Princeton Avenue sewer project that K2 Engineering project manager Brian Lake explained would replace a “very deep” sewer line that goes up in the vicinity of Princeton Avenue and Gilmore Street.
“It’s not a very big project, but it’s something that we need and we can build off of for future projects in that area,” Lake said.
Visocky, who recalled seeing many deep sewer ditches as a water service worker, said this ditch was “unbelievable.”
“This was the deepest I’ve ever seen,” Visocky said. “It’s actually scary. It’s not even safe.”
At city council’s Dec. 23 meeting, its last before Gerke took over as mayor, council approved a police contract with Teamsters Local 491 through 2022 under which police employees will now make contributions to the pension plan to offset city contributions. The city’s previous contract was set to expire at the end of 2020.
“It addresses the pension cost issue in a way that benefits the city by reducing that overall cost,” Witt said. “It benefits the employees by ensuring their pension continues to be as well-funded as it can be. And then it also benefits the city by reducing the health care contributions. So there’s definitely advantage to both sides, and we’ll likely be working on another ordinance that enables pension contributions to be pre-taxed, which will be another benefit to the employees with no detriment to the city.”
“I’d personally like to thank the police for being willing to renegotiate,” Gatti said. “ ... It’s always nice to have that kind of relationship when you can open up and take care of things when need be. The contribution was zero for a long time, and it didn’t have to change, and they were willing to do that.”
In his final meeting as mayor on Dec. 23, outgoing Mayor Ed Fike touted what he felt were highlights of his tenure: balancing the city’s budget after the city had a deficit that exceeded $1 million when he first took over in 2008 and implementing two-hour free parking downtown, which he credited Gatti with pushing.
“It’s been a good ride, and I enjoyed it,” said Fike, who lost to Republican challenger Gerke as the Democratic incumbent.
With Gerke in the audience, Fike said he would be “here to help in any way I can.”
“(A)s I pass the torch to the new administration, I do that with … heartfelt love,” Fike said. “ … I hope everyone, whether they were with me or against me, we can all come together now to be the friends that we’re supposed to be.”
Gerke also emphasized coming together in his first meeting, as well as attacking blight, completing the Sheepskin Trail and addressing flooding issues in the city.
“It’s time for us to roll up our sleeves and get to work,” he said.