Last updated: February 19. 2013 9:42PM - 648 Views

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WILKES-BARRE ‚?? As the city continues to re-tool its proposed 2013 budget, one expense being scrutinized is membership to organizations and associations.


One membership ‚?? the Pennsylvania Municipal League ‚?? costs the city about $17,000 a year. Five PML representatives met with city officials Tuesday to explain the organization‚??s functions and to detail the membership benefits.


Council also briefly reviewed Thursday night‚??s regular meeting agenda but had no discussions about the proposed 2013 budget that is expected to include $500,000 in cuts and a 25-mill increase in property taxes.


The city is in the midst of a financial crunch; Mayor Tom Leighton furloughed 11 city firefighters last week with no assurance they will be reinstated after Jan. 1.


Council members Tony George and Maureen Lavelle said they have not seen Leighton‚??s revised budget. The mayor originally proposed a 30-mill tax hike, but council submitted suggestions and is now awaiting the new version of the city‚??s spending plan. A special meeting probably will be called before the end of the year to vote on the budget, George said.


Several council members, city officials and the mayor have routinely attended PML conferences and meetings with the costs charged to the taxpayers. City Controller Kathy Kane, a past council member, serves on the PML Board of Directors as its legislative committee co-chairperson.


Kane has long advocated for the city‚??s continued affiliation with the PML, and she arranged for Tuesday‚??s meeting at no cost to the city.


PML representatives included Richard Vilello, mayor of Lock Haven and president of the board; Richard Schuettler, deputy executive director; Jean Pugh, director of group business programs; Gail Markovitz, director of training; and John Brenner, director of development and former mayor of York.


Vilello said PML provides all 80 member municipalities with resources, services and contacts.


‚??The league provides an extensive network to share information and offer assistance,‚?Ě he said.


Brenner said that when he took over for the previously indicted mayor, York was faced with a 40 percent tax increase and other problems. He said PML was instrumental in helping lead York out of its crisis.


In addition to Kane, the city was represented by council members George, Lavelle, Bill Barrett and George Brown; Leighton, Marie McCormick, Drew McLaughlin, Greg Barrouk, Jim Ryan, Butch Frati and others.


‚??The legislative information we receive is invaluable,‚?Ě McCormick said.


Kane said that in her experience with the PML she has learned that many municipalities throughout the state have similar problems to Wilkes-Barre‚??s and through group discussions, information is shared and brought back to the city.


‚??One day at a PML conference can pay dividends for the city for the next 20 years,‚?Ě Vilello said.


Brown said council has been going over the budget to determine which expenses are needed and which can be eliminated. McLaughlin told him of one program that saved the city nearly $14,000 in just two cases involving city residents.


At council‚??s work session, Barrett said the city should begin looking into partnering with neighboring municipalities to share services, such as fire protection. He said he was not advocating the elimination of the city fire department or moving to a volunteer-based system.


By partnering with neighboring towns, Barrett said some emergencies can be responded to faster by the neighboring town. Leighton told Barrett the city is looking into the idea.


Barrett also proposed looking into upgrading the city‚??s parking meters to ones that would accept credit and/or debit cards.


What‚??s next?

City Council will meet in regular session Thursday at 6 p.m., Council Chambers, 4th Floor, City Hall. Public comment is allowed.


The Wilkes-Barre City Fire Department will hold a demonstration Thursday before council‚??s meeting. Greg Freitas, vice president of Local 104 of the International Association of Fire Fighters, said the demonstration will begin near the Ramada Hotel on Public Square at 5 p.m. and will proceed to City Hall in time for the meeting.


Freitas said firefighters will attend from companies throughout the state, including Erie, Pittsburgh, Altoona and Johnstown. He said representatives intend to address council at the meeting.


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