Oil City Budget Won’t Include Tax Hikes, Layoffs, or Significant Staffing Changes

| November 17, 2017

OIL CITY, Pa. (EYT) – Oil City’s 2018 budget won’t have a tax increase nor will there be any layoffs or significant staffing changes.

The City council passed the $20,043,812.00 balanced budget on a first-reading basis at its meeting on Thursday. The budget must pass two more readings before it goes into law.

“I’m very pleased with this budget,” City Manager Mark Schroyer said. “We worked very hard to put this budget together, and this was a much better budget season than the last two. This budget is balanced and realistic.”
Schroyer believes that not raising taxes bodes well for the city’s future.

“Raising taxes is not a path to economic prosperity,” Schroyer said.

Councilman Ron Gustafson said this year’s budget went much smoother than in his previous five years on the council.

“In the past, the budget had been somewhat of an (issue),” Gustafson said.

Schroyer did say he was worried about the flat revenue stream in the city.

“You can only cut so much,” Schroyer said.

Gustafson said he thought that the revenue problem could be addressed by growth, and Schroyer agreed.

WATER RATES INCREASE 35 CENTS PER 100 CUBIC FEET

The council passed a water-rate increase of 35 cents per 100 cubic feet of water. The sewage rates will remain the same.

PARKING VIOLATION FINES APPROVED; DISORDERLY HOUSING UPDATE TABLED

The council gave final approval of the parking violations fine increase they first approved at last week’s meeting with Gustafson clarifying that jail time for someone who fails to pay is not something new added to the ordinance but is something that has always been in the ordinance.

While the parking violation fine hike was approved, the updating of the Disorderly Housing update that was also approved on a first-reading basis at last week’s meeting after Gustafson again objected to the use of the word “idleness” in the law, which was first written in 1928, and also the use of drinking stating he believed that “drinking” was already covered under a liquor law violation.

But, Oil City Police Chief Robert Wenner said while he had no problem taking the word “idleness” out of the ordinance he did object to taking the drinking section out, stating that not all drinking violations are necessarily handled under the liquor law.

Gustafson and councilman Michael Poff debated Wenner on the subject before Wenner told them they could “do what they wish, but I disagree based on 30 years of doing this.”

Poff’s biggest issue was the language is too archaic for his taste.

“We should mean what we say and say what we mean,” Poff said. “Not (say) close to what we want it to mean.”

Wenner responded by saying the 1920s-era language has never been a problem, and the district justices have always been able to interpret it.

Gustafson then suggested that one way to modernize the ordinance would be to include the phrase “illicit drug use and drinking,” and Wenner said that made sense.

However, without city legal counsel Robert Varsek at the meeting, the council thought it was best to table the ordinance at this time. With this postponement, it just keeps the old fine schedule in the ordinance considering the entire purpose of updating the ordinance was to update the fine schedule at the suggestion of District Magistrate Andrew Fish.

LONG DISCUSSION HAD ON REQUEST FOR POLICE SERVICE

A long discussion with a simple answer was had regarding a request from the Oil City Housing Authority (OCHA) to have the Oil City Police Department patrol 20 units of federally assisted housing known as Cherry Hill located in Cornplanter Township. The OCHA wants help from the Oil City Department because it is having some issues at Cherry Hill, and Cornplanter doesn’t have a police department and relies on state police coverage.

Schroyer stated he wasn’t in favor of doing it as an agreement with the OCHA because it would be providing a private entity police protection.

“The city would be acting as a private security force,” Schroyer said.

Schroyer said he could see the city entering into a cooperative agreement with Cornplanter Township where the township would pay the city for a certain number of patrol hours but that could get complicated as well.

Gustafson said he believes just patrolling Cherry Hill would be like “spot policing,” while Poff thought it might be a way to expand a cooperative agreement with Cornplanter Township.

“Maybe Oil City could expand into Cornplanter and charge a fee,” Poff said. “It could be a flat fee or an hourly fee.”

In an answer to a question from councilman Dale Massie, Schroyer said he wasn’t sure if the city’s police department currently had the staffing to do that considering it is currently short three officers, who the city hopes to have hired by the first of the year, but even then it will take six months to bring them up to speed.

More discussion took place about how outside municipalities refuse to pay for public safety but expect Oil City to always come to the rescue.

“At some point, outlying (municipalities) need to pick up their fair share,” Schroyer said

Schroyer then said he wasn’t even sure if OCHA had even contacted Cornplanter Township about the problem, and Wenner said he didn’t think they had.

“It would be best to return some type of correspondence to (OCHA) to see if they have contacted Cornplanter Township,” Wenner said. “We can tell them we would like to help, but without even knowing if Cornplanter wants our help, we are talking about a lot of things that might not matter.”

Massie agreed.

“We are way ahead of ourselves,” Massie said. “I think the chief is right.”

Council then instructed Schroyer to draft a letter to the OCHA to see if it has had any discussion with Cornplanter Township about the problem.

FLINSPACH QUESTIONS POLICE ACTIONS

Mary Flinspach, a bus driver for the Cranberry Bus Company, questioned the actions of both the police officers and Wenner concerning her bus being pulled over earlier this week in the city.

Flinspach said her bus was pulled over on Seneca Street and that it had been released to a local news outlet by Wenner – her name wasn’t included in the report – that the bus was pulled over for speeding, and she didn’t believe that was right.

“The report (in the media) said I was pulled over for speeding,” Flinspach said. “That isn’t what the ticket says. The ticket says it was for failure to obey a traffic control device.”

Flinspach said the ticket wasn’t even completely filled out and that it indicated she was a man.

“Do I look like a man?” Flinspach said.

She was also upset that the officer who pulled her over made her get off her bus.

“I’m not allowed to get off the bus,” Flinspach said. “I had 20 kids on the bus. The other officer with him, instead of getting on the bus, he stood behind the bus. They need to know that I’m not allowed to get off the bus. They can’t ask me to get off the bus.”

Flinspach didn’t dispute that she wasn’t speeding saying she honestly didn’t know because she was “yelling” at a student.

She also said that on the request of her boss, she has already paid the ticket.

“I paid the fine,” Flinspach said. “I had no problem with that.”

Flinspach also said she didn’t believe Wenner should have released the information to the media outlet.

Schroyer said that the releasing of information like this is normal because it is part of public record.

Flinspach said she also is unhappy that she has contacted Oil City Police on a few occasions because of people running her lights and nothing has been done about it.

Mayor Bill Moon said he would have Schroyer talk to Wenner about the incident.

OTHER BUSINESS

  • Schroyer said that the appraisal has come back on the house at 171 Siverly Avenue that Walter Gibson is interested in purchasing. Schroyer said it looks like the appraisal is over $1,500.00 meaning the city would need to advertise the sale of the property, which is “unfortunate.” He now believes the city needs to contact Gibson and see if he still wants to pursue it.
  • Schroyer also said it appears the train station across the street from the city office building will be vacated shortly and that a young man who already owns a business in Oil City is interested in renting it for an antique/specialty shop. He believes he will have more information on that at the next meeting.

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