Last updated: October 15. 2013 7:00PM - 3392 Views
By - jandes@timesleader.com

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Luzerne County Manager Robert Lawton’s proposed 2014 budget calls for an 8 percent tax increase and contains a $2.77 million gap that will be closed with roughly 55 layoffs if employees don’t offer up concessions.

Independent of these potential layoffs, Lawton said he must cut an estimated 50 non-union positions between now and Jan. 1 to fulfill county council’s mandate to start switching the workforce to 37.5 hours by Jan. 2 without impacting the bottom line by paying some to work more hours.

Another estimated 160 employees would have to be cut if council does not approve the tax hike, which would generate about $8 million, Lawton said. The 8-percent increase is the maximum permitted under the county’s home rule charter without going to court.

Lawton said some cuts were made, but additional revenue is needed largely to cover a $2 million increase in health insurance costs, $1.7 million more in additional subsidy to the employee pension fund and $1.5 million in union raises and length-of-service bonuses.

The budget does not factor in any increases for employees covered by six collective bargaining agreements that expire the end of this year, he said.

Additional revenue also is needed next year because the county won’t be seeking a cash advance on delinquent taxes — an option that will generate $4.3 million this year. Lawton said that back-up plan, known as monetization, won’t be available in 2014 because the pool of available taxes will be nearly depleted by this year’s cash advance.

The proposed budget has been forwarded to county council and will be posted on the county website, www.luzernecounty.org, Lawton said.

Council will hold several public budget work sessions before voting on the budget in December.

An 8-percent hike would increase the county’s tax millage rate from 5.32 mills to 5.7456 mills. That means the owner of a property assessed at $100,000 would pay $42.56 more, with a bill increasing from $532 to $574.56.

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