Several municipalities raised taxes for 2014

Last updated: January 20. 2014 11:43PM - 2927 Views
By - jandes@civitasmedia.com

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At least 11 of Luzerne County’s 76 municipalities are increasing real estate taxes this year, according to statistics compiled by the county treasurer’s office.

These increases are on top of an 8-percent tax hike for all county property owners, which amounts to $42 more on a $100,000 property.

White Haven has the highest percentage increase — 31.6.

The owner of a $100,000 property in the borough will pay $60 more, with a tax bill increasing from $190 last year to $250 in 2014.

The borough millage rate is rising from 1.9 to 2.5, which means property owners must now pay $2.50 for every $1,000 in assessed value.

White Haven Council Vice Chairman Charles Best said taxes haven’t been raised in the municipality for at least two decades, and the increase wasn’t taken lightly.

“Costs are rising. We could cut police or road maintenance, but residents wouldn’t like that either. If you want to maintain the same level of services, we had no choice but to raise taxes a little,” Best said.

West Pittston taxes are increasing 21 percent to 3 mills, which equates to $52 more on a $100,000 property, for a new bill of $300, county records show.

Mayor Tony Denisco attributed the increase to rising expenses, including health care costs, to maintain services.

“We’re doing the best we can. We didn’t want to hurt the taxpayers because we know what they’re going through,” he said.

The borough also is dealing with expenses associated with record Susquehanna River flooding that caused extensive damage in 2011, said Councilman Barry Hosier.

While state and federal recovery assistance has been allocated for much of the infrastructure damage and clean-up, the borough has been forced to fund more auditing and other work to comply with regulations, Hosier said.

“The flood still comes back to haunt us,” Hosier said.

Rising in Nanticoke

Nanticoke taxes are increasing 20 percent, from 4.0594 mills to 4.8785 mills, county records show. Because the city’s millage rate is among the highest of the 76 municipalities, the change will have more impact on property owners’ wallets.

The owner of a $100,000 property will pay $82 more, for a new city tax bill of $488.

City officials have said the additional revenue is needed to help fund several improvement projects largely covered by grants. City residents will pay $15 less for refuse, officials have said.

The other municipal tax increases along with the dollar increase on a $100,000 property, according to county figures:

• Luzerne, 16.7 percent (1.4524 to 1.695 mills), $24 more

• Salem Township, 9 percent (1 to 1.09 mill), $9 more

• Jackson Township, 8.9 percent (1.45 to 1.58 mills), $13 more

• Edwardsville, 7 percent (3.5561 to 3.811 mills), $25 more

• Newport Township, 6.5 percent (2.2 to 2.34 mills), $14 more

• West Hazleton, 5.8 percent (3.29 to 3.48 mills), $19 more

• Nescopeck Township, 4.1 percent (1.23 to 1.28 mills), $5 more

• Huntington Township, 3 percent (0.466 to 0.48 mills), $1.40 more

Like his counterparts in other municipalities, Edwardsville Mayor Bernard Dubaskas blamed the tax hike on across-the-board cost increases.

“It’s not easy. We still have 24/7 police coverage, but it’s tough. We had to cut some police shifts to get through the end of last year,” Dubaskas said.

Jackson Township Supervisor Chairman John Wilkes Jr. said township officials price shop, bulk purchase and share equipment with other municipalities to save money, but gains are more than wiped out by rising costs for fuel, rock salt and unfunded mandates.

“It’s really the cost of doing business. We’ve already cut and are doing more with less. I really don’t know what the long-term solution is,” Wilkes said.

Luzerne hasn’t raised taxes in 18 years, and the decision was painful, said Councilwoman Judy Gober. Borough officials discussed a tax hike for three years but decided to act in 2014 so they wouldn’t be forced to impose a drastic increase down the road because they ignored the inevitable, she said.

“We have a large percentage of seniors in our town, and we’re very mindful of it. Times are tough for a lot of borough residents,” Gober said.

Newport Township Commissioner John Zyla said a hike was needed to fund employee compensation negotiated in union contracts, though the garbage fee was reduced by $5 as partial compensation to taxpayers.

West Hazleton Mayor Frank Schmidt said his borough lost revenue associated with sewer transmission that will be replaced through the tax hike.

The borough should be out of Act 47 distressed status this year, he said. Though tax hikes are unpopular, Schmidt believes borough residents appreciate the services provided with tax dollars, particularly police coverage that was severely downsized several years ago due to finances.

“Residents pushed for restored police service, and we now have 24-hour protection,” Schmidt said.

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