HAZLETON – City Council twice failed on Wednesday night to pass a 2013 spending plan, leaving open the possibility the city might not have a budget by the end of the year and won't be able to pay its workers or its bills.
Council did, however, appoint a new member, Kevin Schadder, replacing Karin Cabell, who recently resigned.
Mayor Joseph Yannuzzi cast the deciding vote after a 2-2 tie, with Jean Mope and Jack Mundie voting against the appointment.
Council President Jim Perry expressed concern about the ability of council to meet the Dec. 31 deadline for final approval of the budget.
The city recently lost revenue from a series of $600,000 annual payments from a developer reclaiming mine land on the city's southwest side, leaving it with a substantial shortfall. Perry addressed possible sources of increased revenue, including a controversial $60 rental fee to tenants and a $50 storm water system maintenance fee.
An original proposed budget introduced by Yannuzzi and tabled at a previous meeting would have meant an 83 percent increase in property taxes.
On Wednesday night, an amended budget reflecting cuts, other revenue and just a 19 percent increase in property taxes failed by a 3-2 vote, with Perry and Keith Bast voting yes; Mope, Mundie and Schadder voting no.
The original budget was then reintroduced and it also failed, with Mope, Mundie and Schadder voting against.
Council must approve three readings of a proposed budget before it is adopted. Council will meet again Thursday for another budget session. Mope encouraged council members to consider various avenues of cutting city expenditures, including opening up union contracts.
In order for the city to succeed in the long run, we all need to be willing to sacrifice, said Mope.
Police Chief Frank DeAndrea was questioned about an increase his department's budget, which Mope said increased a good deal.
The mayor asked me to provide an honest budget in regard to expenses, said DeAndrea. This reflects such expenses as ammunition, previously omitted from the operating budget. I assure you, our guns have always had bullets.
Hazleton's Hispanic community, many of whom are homeowners and members of Hazleton Area Landlords Organization, was well represented at the meeting.
I've lived in Hazleton for 17 years and this is my home, Freddy Kelly said. I want us to work together to make Hazleton beautiful and financially healthy.
Just like families need to make sacrifices to keep food on the table, so the city needs to foresee economic challenges and prepare for them, he added.
Victor Perez, representing Dominican House, encouraged council to be aware of economic conditions and to make reasonable decisions in light of those conditions.
If the economy slows down, council needs to also slow down its spending in the long term, said Perez, comparing the actions of council to dancing.
A 2013 budget work session is scheduled for Dec. 27.