There is good news and bad news in Johnstown’s proposed budget for 2006.

The good news is that it does not project a tax increase.

The bad new is that it does not project a tax increase.

Johnstown’s city councilmen have not approved a tax increase during the past 11 years, although maybe they should have. It does not appear likely that they will do so this year, not unless they are astute enough to read the proverbial writing on the wall.

It isn’t that we like higher taxes. Quite the contrary is true. However, we do believe in reality.

Fact No. 1: Johnstown has been laboring under distressed city status for years, but officials had mercy and did not raise the already-high city property taxes, even a smidgen.

Fact No. 2: The new budget proposal handed city council by City Manager Jeff Silka is a deficit budget that proposes spending $193,000 more than is projected for revenues.

Fact No. 3: Much as property owners detest a tax increase, they equally detest a slash in services, which many residents are saying should be improved.

Fact No. 4: Costs have risen continually during the past 11 years, as anybody trying to manage a home budget can attest. Nearly everything costs more than it did a decade ago, especially gasoline, heating a home and medical expenses.

Fact No. 5: Contracts for three unions representing city employees expire at the end of this year. For the most part, unionized workers have had to be patient throughout the city’s distressed status, and now will be asked to assume co-payments for their medical insurance. Some pay adjustments will have to be made.

Fact No. 6: City officials are not certain that distressed status will be continued, and if it is not, the restrictions on the unions will vanish. So will some other financial benefits that come to distressed cities.

Those facts do not even touch another concern, namely that the Public Safety Building is in such sad shape that expensive repairs or relocation of fire and police departments will soon be necessary.

It is true that city taxes already are too high, both because of shrinking population and a diminishing tax base.

It is also true that many city taxpayers are senior citizens on fixed incomes, and expenses for these property owners have been rising, also without additional income.

However, if city finances are allowed to deteriorate further because its politicians refuse a small and almost painless tax boost now, the city could find itself in the position Cambria County was in, and will be required to institute a large and very painful increase in a few years.

It is not an easy decision.

Bill Jones is a retired senior writer for The Tribune-Democrat and a member of the newspaper’s editorial board.

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