Last updated: February 17. 2013 2:11AM - 143 Views

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WILKES-BARRE ?? The city is seeking concessions from each of its four unions based on problems in collecting earned income tax revenue, council Chairman Mike Merritt confirmed Thursday.

Merritt said he attended a meeting last week with Mayor Tom Leighton, administrators, two city council members and union representatives to discuss the possibility of contract concessions.

??We??re looking to see if everybody can make concessions because we don??t want to raise taxes,? Merritt said. ??I??m not saying there will be a tax increase ?? in fact, I hope there won??t be. But when funds are tight, raising taxes is always the easiest way to make it up.?

Merritt did not specify what concessions the city is seeking. Two city employees, who spoke on the condition of anonymity out of fear of retaliation, said workers have been asked to accept a pay freeze for 2013 and to forgo pay for four holidays: Columbus Day, Veterans Day, Flag Day and the day after Thanksgiving.

The employees said they would still get those days off, but they would not be paid. City officials have indicated layoffs might be necessary if the unions don??t agree to the concessions, they said.

Drew McLaughlin, administrative coordinator for the city, said the city would not comment on the ongoing negotiations.

Merritt said the concessions are needed because the city has not received roughly $1.1 million in earned income taxes that were collected by the Centax-Don Wilkinson Agency ?? a problem affecting numerous municipalities throughout the county.

Centax, which was hired by the Luzerne County Tax Collection Committee to collect earned income taxes countywide, ran into problems that left it unable to distribute the funds. The agency recently sold its contract to Berkheimer Associates, which is working to resolve the issues.

??We understand that it will be some time before the situation gets straightened out and we get the money,? Merritt said. ??All I can say is money is tight.?

Leighton annually announces his budget proposal in mid to late October and council has until the end of the year to approve the spending plan.

Merritt said last week??s meeting was the first he has attended. He said he could not ??get a read? on how the request for concessions was received by the union representatives.

City employees are covered by four unions: Laborers International Union of North America Local 1310; Teamsters Local 410; the Police Benevolent Association and the International Association of Firefighters Local 104. Representatives from each of the unions did not return phone messages seeking comment.

One of the employees who spoke to The Times Leader said workers might be willing to make concessions, but they want to see officials within the administration share the sacrifice.

??I think they should be cutting at the top ?? the people making $80,000 or $90,000 a year. How about cutting them?? the employee said.

The employee said the city has indicated the concessions are a temporary measure, but workers are skeptical.

??It??s just till they straighten things out, but when will that be? It might be five years till they straighten things out,? the employee said.

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