Luzerne County real estate taxes will increase 3.25% next year under a budget county council adopted late Tuesday in a 7-4 vote.
County taxes are currently 5.9754 mills, or $597.54 on a $100,000 property. A mill is $1 tax for every $1,000 in assessed value.
With the increase, the millage will rise to 6.1696, for a total payment of $616.96 on a $100,000 property, or about $19 more.
Council members approved numerous budget amendments to reduce the administration’s proposed 5% increase.
The following council members approved the budget: Patrick Bilbow, Tim McGinley, Rick Morelli, Sheila Saidman, Robert Schnee, Matthew Vough and Chris Perry, although Perry abstained from voting on the court portion due to his married daughter’s longtime employment in the court system.
Those voting no: Harry Haas, Jane Walsh Waitkus, Stephen A. Urban and Linda McClosky Houck.
Council spent several hours discussing and voting on more than 100 proposed amendments and came up with $1.9 million in cuts and additional revenue.
Council would have to come up with $5.25 million in cuts or new revenue to avoid a 5% tax increase. Each percentage of the tax increase generates a little over $1 million.
Among the changes approved Tuesday include:
• Nonunion raises. Proposals to remove the entire $236,756 requested or cut the allocation in half both failed to secure a majority vote. A majority ended up supporting McGinley’s proposal to cut the earmark by 10%.
Pedri argued merit-based raises are used as a “motivator” to attract and keep workers.
• New positions. Council rejected two of the three new positions requested by Pedri to save more than $79,000, leaving only one new information technology position paying $50,000. Because a custodial position was not created, council agreed to include $6,200 in funding to hire a company to clean the records storage facility in Hanover Township. Urban did not secure enough support to also eliminate a vacant county detective position.
• The reserve fund, a pot of money set aside for unforeseen situations, was reduced by $200,000, leaving a $300,000 cushion. However, council later added another $78,000 into the reserve from unfilled positions.
• Debt repayments were reduced $637,550 due to savings from debt restructuring.
• Chief Public Defender Steven Greenwald lost his plea for $92,658 for expert examinations and witnesses, with a majority reducing the earmark to $85,000. A majority also reduced another public defender’s office line by $18,000.
Greenwald told council he was “disturbed” that his office is being cut, while the district attorney’s office is not.
“I’d be happy with 80% of what you give the DA,” Greenwald said.
• The earmark for assessment refunds, which cover overpayments to property owners who successfully challenge the tax value of their real estate, was reduced by $25,000 cut, leaving $525,000
• Council unanimously denied a $62,000 increase in the county’s annual allocation to the Luzerne County Community College. The county currently provides $6.2 million.
Several council members had questioned the urgency of an increase when college President Thomas Leary recently received a 9% raise of $15,300.
Council failed to pass proposals to cut allocations for outside inmate housing at the prison and payroll processing through human resources management company ADP.
Luzerne County Courthouse