Greensburg residents will see an additional 1-mill charge next year, and city officials will borrow $1 million as they look for ways to bolster funds dedicated to public safety that traditionally came from the J. Edward Hutchinson Parking Garage, which is slated for demolition.
The charge and loan were part of a flurry of ordinances voted on this week, including the passage of a $12.9 million balanced budget.
The votes came weeks after city officials made the decision to close the garage, which is attached to Excela Health Westmoreland Hospital. The facility generated about $139,000 the year prior to the covid-19 pandemic, and those funds were earmarked to purchase police vehicles and firetrucks. However, that is a significant decrease in revenue from 10 years ago, when it generated $250,000.
“The parking garage has reached its end of life and must now be closed permanently for safety reasons,” Councilman Randy Finfrock, director of accounts and finance, said last month. “That means the revenue doesn’t continue to decline gradually over time, it falls to zero for next year. So we have to come up with an alternate source of funding.”
To keep money flowing into the capital fund used for public safety, council voted to take out a $1 million loan. Those funds will be used to purchase a new police vehicle each year over the next five years, and one fire truck, which could cost more than $700,000.
Revenue from the 1-mill charge, which is expected to total $125,000, will be used to pay off the loan. That equates to between $20 and $25 per homeowner.
“It was one of those situations where we just couldn’t keep kicking that can down the road,” Mayor Robert Bell said. “If we wanted to maintain the integrity of the fire department and the police department, it was something we had to do. … I feel that the return on the investment from the residents is going to be pretty high, especially with these guys.”
Taxpayers will see a separate line on their tax statements indicating the 1-mill charge.
Council members listed it as a separate charge intentionally so future administrations cannot use the money for items other than public safety. Bell noted the money only can be used for vehicles, not other equipment such as gloves and boots.
Officials made the decision to close the garage Dec. 1 in concert with Excela Health. The garage, built for 475 vehicles, opened in October 1979. It was intended to ease parking problems at the hospital. Over the years, however, free parking spaces popped up around the garage, and patients are spending fewer days in the hospital, resulting in declining revenue.
Today, the deteriorating parking garage would cost about $2.5 million to repair, which would only extend its useful life for another three to five years.
“If you don’t like paying the 1 mil for the public safety, then you are going to really hate paying 2.5 mills for a garage bill that would have to be addressed again in five years,” Finfrock said last month. “So we eliminated that as an option … and we really don’t want to put that kind of money into it, and it’s not a good business model to follow.”
Included in the budget are fee increases related to recreation, 3% pay raises for city employees not covered by collective bargaining agreements and pay raises for seasonal employees. Expenses related to planning and zoning will focus on improvements to Spring Avenue Park in the city’s Fifth Ward.