WILKES-BARRE – Eleven city employees have accepted early retirement, according to Drew McLaughlin, administrative coordinator, but the city's financial dilemma is far from resolved.
McLaughlin said department heads will be notified within 24 to 48 hours of additional involuntary furloughs. He said if department heads come back with suggestions to avoid the layoffs, the city will listen.
But if no other options are found, we will announce the furloughs before the end of the week, McLaughlin said.
McLaughlin said four employees in the fire department, two police, two public works, one non-union management in the purchasing department and two in Local 1310 – one in parking enforcement and one in the tax office – have accepted the city's offer. Some 51 city employees were eligible to take the early retirement incentive.
They could choose between a $400 monthly stipend from Jan. 1, 2013 to December 2015 or health care coverage for their spouses and dependents for the same time period.
In order to close the end-of-year deficit and reduce the proposed millage increase for 2013, the city will thoroughly review these retirements to see what positions, if any, will need to be replaced, said Mayor Tom Leighton. We anticipate more mandatory cuts will be necessary to fulfill both city council and the administration's goals of closing the year in balance and minimizing the impact of potential tax rate increases.
Neither he nor McLaughlin said how many layoffs would be necessary.
Wilkes-Barre is short almost $2 million in revenues this year and furloughs are planned to balance Leighton's $44.8 million budget for 2012. The mayor has proposed a preliminary $45.8 million budget for 2013 that calls for a 31-percent real estate tax increase. Council has to adopt a budget by the end of the year.
McLaughlin said there will be immediate savings over the next six weeks due to the early retirements. He said for 2013, if all 11 positions are not filled, the city would realize hundreds of thousands of dollars in savings in salaries alone.
McLaughlin said Leighton was not disappointed only 11 took the early retirement offer.
Eleven is better than none, he said. We have immediate savings for this year and bigger savings for 2013.
Asked if employees can change their minds and take the offer, McLaughlin said, The deadline was noon today. The offer is off the table.
As the proposed 2013 budget stands, taxpayers are facing a 30-mill hike in property taxes. A mill is a $1 tax for every $1,000 assessed property value. The millage rate would be 126.63 mills with the proposed hike.
Leighton has asked the city's three bargaining units to consider concessions. The 3-percent raise employees are to get next year and three paid, non-federal holidays they're to receive are among the givebacks sought by the mayor to reduce the tax hike. Those are expected to save the city about $500,000.
Salaries and benefits account for $28.6 million or 62 percent of the 2013 budget, and the mayor has been looking at improving the city's finances by trimming the payroll through retirements.
Wilkes-Barre City Council will hold a budget hearing Nov. 28 at 6 p.m. in council chambers at City Hall.