W ITH EVERY PUBLIC BUDGET, there inevitably are winners and losers. That's part of the process.
But city residents and visitors clearly are getting short-changed in many ways as a result of Wilkes-Barre City Council's approval of the Mayor Thomas Leighton-endorsed 2013 spending plan.
Despite the hard-line rhetoric over a six-week period to cut spending and be more judicious with taxpayers' money, elected officials were anything but in approving the $44 million spending plan last week.
Consider these points:
• Homeowners now face a 26 percent real estate tax increase, amounting to around a $150 bump on average in the annual bill. Ouch!
• All city residents will pay more in routine fees, including the trash bags required to get household trash picked up. And even though the city has contracted with a private vendor last year to sell the recyclables, the recycling fee went up. That hurts!
• Visitors will feel the pinch, too. Parking meter fees – a source of complaints in any town that has metered streets – are going up. Business owners already struggling with increased taxes and fees will have another obstacle in the never-ending battle to keep downtown vibrant. That's painful!
• To top it off, residents are left with a noticeably smaller fire department with the lingering layoffs of 11 firefighters. Overtime to cover shifts will gobble up much of the savings. Are you kidding?
But the spending plan has its winners, and they appear to be concentrated in the area of North Washington and East Market streets. Despite talk about too many managers in several departments, City Hall emerged unscathed. In fact, workers there are coming out of this process with 3 percent raises from a cash-strapped employer openly struggling to pay bills.
Ditto for union workers, who did not offer to sacrifice a little for the greater good.
While the price tag to citizens' wallets is real, there is a higher price to pay: Loss of faith in leadership.
When it came time to stand up for a spending plan that takes into account the economic realities of 2013, no council member dared to say no.
The heaviest toll is council's inaction effectively reduced our council leaders to be mere followers of an administration that sorely needs checks and balances.