A conflicting menu of eight 2014 budget amendments appears on tonight’s Luzerne County Council agenda because three members presented different proposals on how to lower the 8-percent tax hike.
Councilwoman Kathy Dobash suggests erasing the 8-percent increase by reducing each division’s expenses by 8 percent. Her alternate plan: 5 percent cuts in each division to reduce the tax hike by 5 percent.
Council Vice Chairman Edward Brominski proposed five changes, including an early-retirement incentive and inclusion of revenue from selling the former county-owned Valley Crest Nursing Home in Plains Township, that combined would reduce the tax hike to less than 2 percent.
Councilman Stephen J. Urban wants to cancel the entire hike by cutting staff and other expenses and increasing revenue by factoring in more probation fees/fines and employee health care reimbursement.
Questions have been raised about the amendment process because it has only been exercised once during the first year of home rule in 2012.
• What is council voting on tonight?
A. Budget amendments must be enacted by ordinance, and at least four council members must agree to introduce an ordinance.
Council will decide tonight if at least four members are willing to advance each proposal “to the next level” of consideration, said county Chief Solicitor C. David Pedri.
• What if council members are unsure about a proposal due to a lack of information?
A. Council Chairman Rick Morelli said a vote tonight shows interest in further researching an idea, including the potential impact of cuts. Council members may be interested in pursuing multiple amendments, and a vote tonight does not mean they are committed to supporting final passage.
• What happens to amendments introduced?
A. Council must hold a public hearing at least seven days later, which could be Feb. 4. Council members will have an opportunity to advocate or critique each amendment. The administration also may weigh in.
• How does a change get passed?
A. Tax-rate alterations must be approved by six of 11 council members — a majority — before Feb. 15, Pedri said.
Support may not come from five sitting council members who voted for the tax hike last December after the administration said mass layoffs were the only other immediate, sustainable way to reduce expenses. Several already have criticized and challenged the viability of amendments proposed by colleagues.
• What if conflicting amendments make it to the final vote?
A. Council members must be clearly informed their vote for one option would prevent completion of another, Pedri said.
• What’s the likelihood a proposal will receive majority support, especially now that three of the six council members who expressed interest in reopening the budget have different ideas?
A. Pedri said all council members have been “very active” seeking new ways to reduce the tax burden, and each has “the right to be heard.”
“The question is, will any one amendment have six votes?” Pedri said.