Saturday, July 12, 2014

Tax hike part of Tuesday’s budget vote

December 08. 2013 11:33PM

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Luzerne County Council members will be forced to take a position on the proposed tax hike when they vote on the 2014 budget tomorrow night.

Though a majority may not accept the maximum 8 percent, some increase is expected to be approved because no hike would require more than 200 staff cuts.

In anticipation of the need to vote on other options, a list of tax rates at incremental 1-percent increases was attached to the agenda for Tuesday’s meeting, which is set to start at 6:45 p.m. in the council meeting room at the courthouse.

• Some council members have said the outcome of proposed union health care concessions will weigh into their decision on a tax hike because they are seeking shared sacrifice.

Sources say several unions are receptive to the proposal to switch to one insurance provider, increase copayments and add a $500 hospital stay deductible, but it remains to be seen if all 10 unions will agree.

Council will meet in closed-door executive session at 6 p.m. before Tuesday’s budget vote to discuss the concessions and other collective-bargaining issues.

• A crowd is expected at Tuesday’s session, and council Chairman Tim McGinley said he will review the maximum capacity of the council meeting room to determine if the location should be changed. Several workers said they were told they could not reenter the meeting room after visiting the bathroom during a recent packed budget session because the meeting place was at capacity.

• Court officials offered to meet with council members individually at night or over the weekend if they have any lingering questions or doubts about the proposed budget, according to an email McGinley sent to council members last Wednesday.

Councilman Harry Haas had publicly made a comment that he thought some areas of the budget could still be cut, mentioning the number of secretaries in district judges’ offices.

• The administration has prepared more than 200 layoff notices that must be issued to impacted employees if council does not pass a tax hike and unions don’t accept health care concessions. There were reports of workers receiving layoff notices last week, but county Manager Robert Lawton said no notices will be delivered until after council’s budget vote, and the number will depend on the outcome of the meeting.

• A treatment court graduation will be held Wednesday for non-violent offenders charged with offenses related to or motivated by their addiction to drugs or alcohol. The offenders participated in a rehabilitation program, and their criminal charges are dismissed at graduation.

The program started in January 2006, and 119 residents have graduated to date, with another 14 participating in Wednesday’s ceremony. The recidivism rate of committing new offenses after graduation is 12 percent, compared to 66 percent in similar programs nationally.

Officials estimate the county’s treatment court saves $41,332 in prison costs per graduate.

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