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State College Borough Council Reviews 2014 Budget, Includes Modest Tax Hike

by on December 03, 2013 6:50 AM

Borough Council reviewed portions of the proposed 2014 budget that includes a tax increase during its regular meeting Monday night.

Under the proposed $23.4 million budget, the millage will increase from 11.04 mills to 12.54 mills.

That means the average tax payer's annual property tax bill would increase from $613 to $696, which is an additional $83, according to borough officials.

For taxpayers who qualify for the Homestead Exclusion, the increase would be reduced from $83 to $46 a year.

Council reviewed the Public Works budget Monday night, which Public Works Director Mark Whitfield described as "one of the more challenging budgets I've put together."

The budget includes the loss of a contract with Centre Area Transportation Authority, forcing the cut of one part-time position; an increase in health and property insurance and two new positions to address necessary road repairs.

Whitfield says the condition of some roadways has deteriorated in the last several years due to a lack of manpower. The budget includes $140,000 for two street maintenance positions.

The budget for tree pruning increased by $70,000 from $35,000 to $105,000. Whitfield says the borough has not had the staff necessary to prune the 8,000 trees on streets and in parks. Trees are supposed to be pruned every five to seven years, however, Whitfield says unless the borough contracts out most of the work, the borough will continue to fall behind.

"Right now we only prune 350 trees a year and we should be pruning 1,150 a year," he said.

Council is expected to review portions of the budget during a public hearing Dec. 9 and then approve a final budget on Dec. 16.

In other business, council president Donald Hahn believes council should consider prohibiting balconies on proposed apartment building.

Hahn raised the concern Monday night during a public hearing about developers' proposed 12-story apartment building and commercial space at West College Avenue and South Atherton Street.

"We have recent history of people falling off of balconies. I'm thinking this is a potential public welfare issue," Hahn said.

He was referring to two incidents that happened last month. Conor MacMannis, 20, of Stafford, Va., died after falling from a ninth story balcony at Penn Towers Apartments on East Beaver Avenue.

Andrew Shearer, 19, was hurt when he fell from a second floor balcony at The Palmerton apartment complex on West Beaver Avenue.

Developer Ara Kervandjian acknowledged Hahn's concerns, noting that his proposal does not include residential balconies. He also noted that windows will only open partially.

"There is no ability, hopefully, to have a reoccurrence of what's happened in recent events," he said.

The project, known as the Metropolitan, does include a covered balcony on the 12th floor as part of a space that will be available to rent for events.

The proposal includes three levels of underground parking, one level of retail and restaurant space, one level of office space, seven floors of student housing and two floors of general occupancy housing.

The proposal for construction of a 145-foot building was before council Monday night as part of a public hearing for a conditional use permit requested by Kervandjian and PennTrust Properties.

Council directed solicitor Terry Williams to draft a letter to approve Kervandjian's project, which council will review at its Dec. 9 meeting and formally consider at its Dec. 16 meeting. Council has 45 days from the hearing to approve or deny the application.

Developers are seeking exceptions to the borough's 30-foot set back, which is the distance a building is required to be situated from the street. Due to the angles of the property where the building will be constructed, developers said at some points, the building cannot meet the requirement. However, at other points, the required set back can actually be exceeded.

Kervandjian said increasing the set back would significantly impact floor plans, reduce square footage for units and increase costs.

Hahn also raised the previously discussed concern of emissions from a nearby power plant potentially adversely affecting tenants at the proposed building. Kervandjian said any air quality issues have not yet been determined.

Evan Myers, chairman of the borough's planning commission, which already signed off on the proposed project, said the environmental impact of the nearby power plant is not solely a concern for the developer.

"It's a concern for the community and the burden is on the community, not just the developer," he said.

Myers also said the commission did not have any issues with the proposed set back measurements.

"It allows a lot of open space and common space in front of that building," he said.

Myers said the developers went before the planning commission 10 times over the past several months and addressed any concerns from the commission and public.



Jennifer Miller is a reporter for StateCollege.com. She has worked in journalism since 2005. She's covered news at the local, state and national level with an emphasis on crime and local government. jenn.miller@statecollege.com
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