WILKES-BARRE – Mayor Tom Leighton is hoping City Council will agree to a 25-mill tax hike, but council members want to see the revised 2013 budget to make sure all excesses have been removed before they approve it.
I'm big on public safety, said Councilman Tony George, a former city police chief. I have no problem raising taxes as long as we've exhausted all other options.
Drew McLaughlin, the city's administrative coordinator, said the budget is being revised. He said budget meetings were being held all day Monday.
The revision is not yet finalized and the administration will share the final product with City Council first, McLaughlin said. We do not want to speculate publicly about changes in the budget before they are final.
I can't say when a vote will take place because the budget isn't completed yet, McLaughlin said. We would hope that a vote would take place as soon as possible and must be adopted prior to the 31st of December, according to the charter.
The city's financial dilemma is twofold: a near $2 million shortfall must be resolved before the end of the year and the 2013 budget must be passed to the agreement of Leighton and City Council. The mayor furloughed 11 firefighters last week with no guarantee that they will be recalled after the first of the year.
The administration hopes that the furloughs are only temporary, but until the budget is adopted by city council, including a millage-rate increase of some kind, we cannot commit to when the furloughed employees could be returned, Leighton said Monday.
McLaughlin said more than $500,000 has been cut from the budget Leighton first proposed in October. That plan called for a 30-mill tax increase.
George said there have to be some concessions made by everybody and some cuts made everywhere – including City Hall.
(Leighton) always says ‘We'll see,' or he ‘hopes' there won't be more cuts, George said. If there haven't been any cuts and we're still at 25 mills, I probably won't go for it.
George and Council President Mike Merritt said they have not seen the revised budget. Merritt said he wouldn't comment until he sees what has been changed.
But the other side is if council doesn't approve the budget, it defaults to the original proposal at 30 mills, Merritt said. I'm hopeful it will pass, but I have concerns. I want cuts in areas where council suggested they be made.
I hate to see jobs cut, Merritt said. But I really can't say more until I've seen what they did.
McLaughlin said a 25-mill increase means the average real estate tax increase would be about $2.94 per week, or about $152 annually. He said the payless payday would be implemented as a last resort to meet the city's financial obligations.
City Council will meet in work session tonight at 6 p.m., Council Chambers, 4th Floor, City Hall.
Council's regular meeting will be held Thursday at 6 p.m., same time and location. Public comment is allowed.