WILKES-BARRE – Two payrolls remain before the end of the year for the city, and employees could go without paychecks or have less money in them if revenues don't come in soon.
The decision depends upon the pace and amount of earned income tax revenues returned to the city, city Administrative Coordinator Drew McLaughlin said Wednesday.
Nothing is planned and nothing is certain, McLaughlin said. If it does occur, it would affect every employee.
Employees had been notified as early as four months ago of the possibility of a payless payday or a reduced paycheck due to the mess created by CENTAX, the company formerly responsible for the collection and distribution of the EIT, he said.
We're getting money in, McLaughlin added. But the lag in distributing the collected revenue caused a budget deficit estimated at $2 million and led the city to cut its workforce through furloughs and with retirements to close the gap.
On top of the struggle to get through this year, city council has been wrestling with Mayor Tom Leighton's proposed $45.8 million balanced budget that includes a 30-mill property tax increase. The mayor has asked for concessions from unions to lower the millage and warned of layoffs if they don't cooperate.
The city will make its payroll for Dec. 7 and anticipates making the last payroll of the year on Dec. 21, McLaughlin said.
The city averages between $550,000 and $600,000 per payroll. However, McLaughlin said, it could increase if the city has to pay overtime to crews to clear the streets after a heavy snowfall.
If anything happens to the paychecks, it likely would be for the last bi-weekly pay period of the year, said Mike Bilski, president of the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 104.
Mayor Tom Leighton mentioned it, said Bilski, adding there is nothing in stone at this point.
The city reduced its workforce of 279 by temporarily furloughing 11 firefighters and four Department of Public Works employees. Two employees in other departments volunteered for furloughs and 12 others retired to help make up for the revenue shortfall.
Bilski and Greg Freitas, vice president of the firefighters union, said the money must be paid back to employees.
That's state law. You would have to, Bilski said.
There is no provision for a payless payday in our (collective bargaining agreement), Freitas said.
McLaughlin agreed, saying the money would be deferred and paid at a later date.
It's not wages lost, he said.
McLaughlin was uncertain on whether there are penalties, interest and other costs associated with the late payments.