WILKES-BARRE – Despite retirements in the fire department and borrowing $3 million in anticipation of receiving tax payments, the city continues to balk at bringing back any of the 11 firefighters laid off last year.
Money to pay the wages and benefits of the furloughed firemen was included in the $44.9 million budget that included a 25-mill property tax increase this year. But what's on paper differs from what's in the city's bank accounts.
The tax anticipation note is paying for expenses such as benefits and insurances, said Marie McCormick, city administrator.
The money borrowed at 1.88 percent interest earlier this year is supposed to get the city through the first part of the year until tax money starts coming in. It's not going to go toward reconnecting the laid-off firefighters with the department, she said Wednesday.
Not at this point; we are still short on revenue, McCormick said.
The city, she explained, is owed between $600,000 and $1 million in earned income tax revenue from last year when Centax handled the collection and distribution of earned income tax from municipalities in Luzerne County.
Centax's contract was terminated after problems arose with payments. Berkheimer Tax Administrator Inc. took over.
Wednesday, however, the Luzerne County Tax Collection Committee received an update on the $7.18 million owed to school districts and municipalities. Committee member Pamela Heard said Wilkes-Barre should receive 50 percent of its share. The money should be distributed within a month, Heard said.
Failing to bring back the firefighters has frustrated Tony George, council vice chairman. George said council voted for Mayor Tom Leighton's 2013 budget with a tax hike to get back the firefighters.
Retirements should make way for returning some of the laid-off firefighters, said Greg Freitas, vice president of the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 104. A fire inspector retired earlier this year, an assistant chief is expected to leave this week and another firefighter next month, Freitas said.
City Council will meet at 6 p.m. today for its regularly scheduled meeting in the fourth floor of City Hall.