COAL TOWNSHIP - Coal Township commissioners unanimously adopted a $2.9 million tentative budget for 2014 Thursday night calling for a 3.5-mill increase in real estate taxes and an 85 percent hike in occupation tax.

The tax increases are expected to generate approximately $257,500 in revenue.

One mill is equivalent to approximately $43,000 in collected tax revenue.

Commissioner Chairman Craig Fetterman said soaring health care costs represent approximately 25 percent of the spending plan that is scheduled to receive final adoption at a special meeting at 3 p.m. Friday, Dec. 27.

The 2013 budget of $2,758,017 included a 2-mill increase in real estate taxes that generated $86,000.

Township manager Rob Slaby said the 3.5-mill increase in real estate taxes is expected to generate $150,500, while raising the occupation tax from 115 percent to 200 percent will generate $107,000.

The three biggest expenses contained in the tentative budget are $975,141 for the police department, $753,750 for benefits including medical, dental and vision insurance, Social Security and the township's share of unemployment insurance, and $533,625 for the street department.

Medical insurance alone will rise from $567,000 to $632,000 and workers' compensation for firefighters will increase from $33,000 to $50,000 in 2014.

Approving the budget were Fetterman and Commissioners Gene Welsh, George Zalar and Bernie Rumberger.

None of the commissioners receive health care benefits from the township.

"We aren't in too bad of shape in Coal Township," Fetterman said. "I want to stress that this is only a tentative budget. It gets more difficult every year to balance the budget. There's a lot of hard work involved and cost-saving measures must be taken. We don't make excuses for having to raise taxes."

Welsh said state and federal funding to municipalities continues to decrease every year.

Zalar added, "We did our best to operate a first-class township. This is a bare-bones budget."

Welsh said, "Everyone should share the burden and pay their taxes."

Other expenses in the general fund include $253,563 for administration, $106,761 for recycling, $9,950 for public safety and fire department, $58,204 for code enforcement, $80,000 for assorted expenses and $175,000 for insurance costs.

Tax rates approved for 2014 include 1/4 mill for the library, 1/2 percent for earned income tax, 1 percent for realty transfer tax, $5 per capita tax, $52 in local services tax, 200 percent occupation tax, 1 1/2 mills for business privilege tax, 1/2 mill for pension fund tax, 1 mill for fire protection, and 20.5 mills for the general fund.

Various funds include $12,253 for the library, $23,270 for pension tax, $55,695 for fire protection, $236,863 for special highway and $33,002 for construction code inspections.

In other business

Slaby reported the township has been awarded a grant for $100,500 from the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) for improvements to the Arch Street playground.

Later in the meeting, Welsh announced the township has received a $25,000 grant from Geisinger to be used for recreation.

The board agreed to advertise a proposed zoning amendment requested by several residents that will change the zoning district lines in Burnside by using Route 125 as the dividing line between the residential-2 zone and coal production/manufacturing zone, some of which currently is classified as a residential zone.

Fetterman, Welsh and Slaby were appointed as township delegates to the Northumberland County Tax Collection Committee for 2014.

The board agreed to change its meeting date from the second Thursday of the month to the first Thursday, except for next month when the session will be held Jan. 9. All regular monthly meetings will begin at 7 p.m. The board's reorganization meeting will be held Monday, Jan. 6.

Commissioners approved all proper paperwork for the acquisition of credit cards through M&T Bank to be used only to make purchases that cannot be made through the normal procedure of purchase orders and paper invoices. Credit cards will be limited to department heads and balances will be paid in full each month after normal invoice review and proper coding within the budget.

Edward Christiano, of Coal Township, was re-appointed to a five-year term on the Shamokin-Coal Township Joint Sewer Authority.

At the end of the meeting, Coal Township assistant fire chief Michael Timco reported a motorist drove over a fire hose on a township engine, causing approximately $2,000 damage, at the scene of Tuesday morning's three-alarm blaze in the first block of South Rock Street, Shamokin. The fire claimed the life of 13-year-old Melissa "Missy" Pangburn and gutted five houses.

Timco said no firefighters were injured, but two sections of the hose busted, and the incident interrupted water flow.

The fire official said the motorist has been identified and an arrest is pending by Shamokin police.

He said it wasn't the first time a motorist ran over a fire hose, but it was the most serious incident.

A moment of silence was held for Pangburn at the beginning of the meeting.

Rumberger, who serves as police commissioner, said officers made 105 arrests in November and handled 340 complaints. He said police patrolled 6,109 miles last month and investigated 35 motor vehicle accidents and one abandoned vehicle report. Police issued 32 parking tickets, filed 26 criminal complaints or citations and issued 44 traffic citations and three code tickets.

Rumberger said Coal Township fire personnel responded to a total of 18 calls, including three mutual aid responses, during November. He said man-hours totaled 537 hours, 28 minutes, while fire units were in service for 22 hours, 49 minutes.