New Castle News

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August 7, 2012

More answers from New Castle’s mayor

NEW CASTLE — Some readers contacted me about the Q-and-A with New Castle Mayor Anthony Mastrangelo with additional questions to ask the mayor.

He said he got good feedback from our last Q and A, too. So he graciously agreed to answer a second round of questions, mainly from you, our readers.

Question: We recently ran a report from the city’s Act 47 coordinating team about the city running out of money by 2014. The report said revenues are flat but expenses are increasing. What do you believe the city can do to reduce expenses, including pension funds? How can the city fund pensions it is committed to?

Answer: The city has seen significant costs savings this year through negotiations of the public works, code enforcement and clerical contracts. The savings will continue over the next five years and allow for cost certainty in regard to personnel costs.

The current police contract has saved the city a lot of money in the areas of minimum manning, overtime, employee benefits and the use of part-time police officers. We expect the new police contract will continue to allow for savings and cost certainty for the city.

The fire contract will be negotiated within the next year. The new recovery plan will better identify cost savings expected from this department over the next five years.

The city is in the process of evaluating the possibility of moving to a defined contribution plan for all future city employees. This is something that will benefit the pension fund in the distant future.

The city’s current pension fund and obligations are a financial burden on the city. Ultimately, the pension fund is a general fund obligation. If and when the pension fund cannot sustain the obligations, the general fund will need to fulfill these obligations.

Question: Act 47 recommendations include doing away with paid fire department and moving to a volunteer fire department for the city. Should the city do this? If not, why?

Answer: I personally feel we should have a paid full-service fire department. Although, the city’s population has declined over the years, we must still care for the structures within the city. For example, in addition to residential and commercial structures we also have two hospitals, churches and other multi-purpose buildings.

The dilemma that we have is the cost to maintain a full-service fire department. We need to buy new or pre-owned equipment, etc., so the firefighters can carry out their duties in a safe and effective manner. This will be a challenge for us, but I feel we can address these issues in a positive way to continue with a full-time department.

Question: Would the city consider increasing the wage tax on non-residents to avoid running out of money?

Answer: No. In order to get out of Act 47, the non-resident (commuter) wage tax must be eliminated. The city will need to sustain only its resident tax.

Question: Regarding expenses, what is the trend for number of city workers and payroll? How many workers did the city employee in 2007? How many workers does the city employ now? How much was city payroll in 2007? What is the projection for city payroll in 2011? What is the city doing to get payroll costs down?

Answer: In 2007, the city employed 141 employees and the payroll cost was $6,522,626. The city employed 143 employees in 2011 and the payroll cost was $6,480,071. Over a four-year period, our payroll cost was lower by $42,555. As far as I am concerned, our expenses have stabilized.

Question: What is the city doing to clean up yards of abandoned houses? What is the city doing about streets/sidewalks with weeds overtaking them? Does the city have or is it considering a beautification master plan?

Answer: One of our goals is to provide a safe and clean environment in the city. About a year ago, we purchased a full-size street cleaner that cleans streets throughout the city. In April/May of this year, we conducted a city-wide clean-up program for the first time in over 12 years. We collected more than 600 tons of trash.

For the past five years, my office has given out two free blue bags to assist or encourage residents to clean up their neighborhood.

For the past five years we spent over $2 million to repair streets throughout the city.

For the past four years, we demolished 83 structures, both residential and commercial.

I receive calls daily about high grass and vacant homes not being cared for properly or in an acceptable manner. Code notifies the owner, including the county, who is then responsible for maintaining property under their control. At times, we do cut grass if it creates a continuous problem for the neighbors. We do not have a beautification master plan.

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