WILKES-BARRE – The city hasn't held a New Year's Eve celebration in almost 10 years, but it still budgets $6,000 for it.
The Parks & Recreation expense is contained in Mayor Tom Leighton's proposed 2013 budget and is one of the items the president of the city's taxpayer association would eliminate to lower a 30-mill tax increase facing property owners.
There are several areas of concern to me, Frank Sorick, head of the association, said Wednesday.
He has reviewed the budget released by the mayor on Oct. 15 and identified other unnecessary expenses in other departments.
The last time people gathered on Public Square for the Diamond Drop was to ring in 2003. As Leighton was taking office for the first time as mayor the following year, his predecessor, Tom McGroarty, canceled the event due to budget woes.
The city isn't facing a $10 million deficit like it was at the start of 2004, but it is dealing with rising expenses and decreasing revenues, according to the mayor.
He has proposed a $45.8 million balanced budget with a tax hike, offered incentives for eligible employees to retire next month and warned that without cooperation from city employees there will be layoffs to offset the loss of savings from concessions.
The New Year's Eve expense was an oversight and will not be in the final budget council must approve by the end of the year, Drew McLaughlin, administrative coordinator for the city, said.
But the $30,000 expense for the St. Patrick's Day parade will remain, he said.
For the second year in a row the mayor's budget included the expense that is more than the $20,000 for the Fourth of July fireworks in Kirby Park, the $2,000 for the Veteran's Day Parade and $1,000 for the Christmas Parade.
In 2011 the city paid pipe-and-drum and string bands a total of $14,800 to march in the St. Patrick's Day Parade, according to information the obtained from the city.
In 2010 it paid a total of $18,500 and in 2009, $15,500. The three-year total amounted to $48,800.
McLaughlin said sponsorships are sought to contribute to the costs associated with city events.
The city also receives tax revenue from tens of thousands of people in the city shopping in our stores, eating at our restaurants, as well as license fees from vendors on event days that would otherwise not do business in the city, he said.
Still, Sorick considered the single-day St. Patrick's Day Parade expense excessive.
If Christmas can be done for a grand, so can St. Patty's Day, he said.
Another $30,000 could be cut by getting rid of the $10,000 budgeted for council travel and the $20,813 for League of Cities dues and expenses, he added.
That's $30,000 to me that represents a full-time DPW employee, Sorick said. That's one more person on the streets working than council traveling.
Facing a $2 million revenue shortfall, the mayor asked for voluntary furloughs from employees. They have until the end of the month to notify the city if they plan to participate.
Sorick said savings could also be made by reducing the number of city attorneys on staff to one from two.
On the revenue side, the city's collections from rental licenses and rental inspections appear to be low, even though the fees will increase next year, Sorick said.
The city budgeted $59,339 in inspection fees and $20,800 for licenses.
McLaughlin responded that the rental units include the 14 high-rises and housing figures from King's College and Wilkes University.
He said the city expects to collect $121,939 for licenses, scheduled inspections and fines in rental-related revenue. About 11.5 percent of the rental units are vacant and not subject to inspection until they are rented. Additional revenues are collected through fines that are issued and tied up in the court system beyond the fiscal year.
McLaughlin said the revenues might increase before the budget is adopted because the city plans to add more inspectors to the department through consolidation.
We do not want to factor that into the revenue projections until it is closer to completion. The budget is a conservative forecast, he said.
Wilkes-Barre City Council meets tonight at 6 on the fourth floor of City Hall at 40 E. Market St.
• City Council must hold a public hearing before adoption of the mayor's budget. The hearing has yet to be scheduled.
• Council must adopt the budget by Dec. 31.
• Employees eligible for retirement have until Nov. 15 to retire and receive the city's offer of three years of health care insurance for them and their dependents.
Jerry Lynott, a Times Leader staff writer, can be contacted at 570 829-7237.