HAZLETON – City council voted 3-2 Monday to pass a budget that includes a 30 percent property tax increase.
The city’s real estate tax will rise from 4.51 to 5.85 mills. A mill is $1 in tax for every $1,000 in assessed property value.
Council Vice President Allison Barletta and Councilwoman Jean Mope voted against the tax hike.
“I voted against the budget because I believe there could have been concessions made for our distressed city and not even one dollar was given up back at our work session on the budget,” said Barletta.
Council President Robert Gavio voted in favor of the budget, saying that it was a measure council was forced to take in order to pay for things such as previous debts, police services, health insurance premiums — which rose by 6 percent — and pensions for city employees, as well as for the general fund.
He said that last year he advocated for tax increases in small increments, but it was not approved.
“There is no elected official that wants to raise taxes,” Gavio said. “It’s the hardest thing to do. What I think council looked at was the lowest possible we can go to start our city in the right direction.”
Mayor Jeff Cusat agrees that the city needs money, but believes there can be alternative methods to obtain it other than a tax increase.
“Nobody likes an increase in property tax,” he said. “Hopefully in the future, we can compromise and work on other possible revenue ideas.”
Barletta also thinks there are other ways for the city to generate revenue, such as applying for various grants and examining how other cities utilize their rental housing registration ordinances and rental fees to make money. Like Cusat, she hopes council members can work together to pursue such initiatives and brainstorm for more ideas in the future.
In other business, council approved the hiring of five new police officers: Milagros Attagracia Holguin-Ramos, Eric Hernandez, Jonathan Leonard, Christopher Zubris and Ryan Mariano.
“I’m excited to have five new police officers on our streets protecting our residents,” Barletta said.