WILKES-BARRE – Two days before Wednesday's public hearing on the city's budget crisis, Mayor Tom Leighton said he still is waiting to hear from union leaders on concessions.
Leighton said on Monday he and his senior staff have been working closely with department heads and City Council to reduce the proposed 30-mill real estate tax increase for 2013 while ensuring sufficient funding is in place to finance city services in the future.
We are in constant communication with council members regarding next year's budget, Leighton said. The administration has suggested a number of concessions to union leadership, which included possible salary freeze and holiday givebacks as well as entertaining any other concessions that the unions might conceive of to save money.
Leighton said the salary freeze alone would save taxpayers $500,000 a year. He said significant concessions would be factored into the millage necessary to fund government services.
The city's 63-member fire department could sustain the hardest hit if other savings aren't found. Police, public works and other departments also would be affected as the city struggles to make up for an estimated $2 million revenue shortfall this year and reduce the 31 percent property tax increase proposed in the mayor's $45.8 million balanced budget for 2013.
Mike Bilski, president of the International Fire Fighters Association Local 104, couldn't be reached for comment Monday.
Last week he said that before the union agrees to give back anything, it needs specifics from the mayor. He told the mayor and council that five retirements in the department as of Wednesday should negate the need for layoffs.
Still, Bilski said, the union is willing to work with the mayor.
At last Tuesday's meeting of the Parking Authority, Leighton said he is always looking to increase revenue for the city. He said there are 15 to 20 firefighters worried about their jobs, as is every city employee.
At the council meeting last week, Leighton said he expects some cuts to come in December.
Council approved the first reading of eight ordinances dealing with fee increases for city-provided services the mayor proposed in next year's budget.
Among them were: an increase of 25 cents per bag for the garbage bags used in the city; a 30 percent increase in rental inspection and rental license fees; an increase of 25 cents in the cost of parking at a meter, bringing the hourly rate to $1, and raising parking tickets to $20 from $10. The second and final reading will be at the Dec. 13 council meeting.
City Council will hold a public hearing on the budget at 6 p.m. Wednesday in Council Chambers, 4th Floor, City Hall, 40 East Market St.