As Wilkes-Barre limps through this year, short almost $2 million in revenues, furloughs are planned to shore up Mayor Tom Leighton's $44.8 million budget for 2012.
He has presented a preliminary $45.8 million budget for 2013 that hasn't pleased the public, especially the 31-percent real estate tax increase. Council has to adopt a budget by the end of the year, and it's likely going to differ from what the mayor proposed.
The city has been in financial trouble before and came out of it for the better, according to the mayor. It is again trying to make it through the year with a proposed 30-mill property tax hike ahead.
A mill is a $1 tax for every $1,000 assessed property value. The millage rate would be 126.63 mills with the proposed hike.
The mayor last raised taxes by that same amount in 2009. It's the last time he raised taxes, but not the first. When he took office in 2004 he immediately tacked on 20 mills, raising the rate to 73.63 mills.
The mayor launched his signature I Believe campaign in 2005 to turn cynical residents into city boosters. He sounded a different note while announcing his budget last month and directed his attention to city employees, saying: We cannot solely tax our way to prosperity and I don't believe that it is prudent or responsible to increase taxes on our citizens without corresponding cuts within the government.
The 3-percent raise employees are to get next year and three paid, non-federal holidays they're to receive are among the givebacks sought by the mayor to reduce the tax hike. It's expected to save the city approximately $500,000.
If we are not able to secure the cooperation of union membership, there will be employment reductions to offset the loss of savings from the concessions, the mayor said.
Salaries and benefits account for $28.6 million or 62 percent of the 2013 budget, and the mayor has been looking at improving the city's finances by trimming the payroll through retirements.
Today is the deadline for 51 employees eligible for retirement to choose between a $400 monthly stipend from Jan. 1, 2013 to December 2015 or health care coverage for their spouses and dependents for the same time period. Depending upon the response, the city will decide on the number of furloughs necessary until year's end and layoffs next year.
More than one resident called for the mayor to set an example and reduce his annual salary of $79,911. By not taking a pay raise for six years, he's technically taken a pay cut. He hasn't budged.