New Luzerne County Council Passes Budget

Taxpayers in Luzerne County will be shelling out more under a new county budget.

It’s all part of the changeover to the new home rule county government.

The former commissioners passed a spending plan with no tax hike before leaving office at the end of last year, but the new county council reopened the budget and Tuesday night the council members narrowly approved the plan which calls for a 2 percent property tax hike.

The new 11-member Luzerne County council narrowly approved the county’s spending plan for 2012 with a vote of six to five.

The first budget passed under the new home rule form of government and it does raise taxes.

Many residents said the county’s people are being taxed too much already.

“A tax to add two percent to what I’m already paying: an unfair tax,” said one resident.

The $122 million budget calls for a 2 percent property tax increase which means an extra $10.50 for the average homeowner.

Even with the tax increase, 56 county employees will be laid off.

County Controller Walter Griffith said if council could get the county’s unions to agree to benefit and salary concessions, both the tax hike and layoffs would be avoided.

“Get them to promise they’re going to forgo this healthcare for part-time people, they’re going to forgo the longevity pays,” said Griffith. “We’re going to forgo all those extra costs and we can save the two percent and move forward with that.”

Some residents said county employees were living well off the taxpayers’ backs.

“They collect benefits, pension benefits, blue cross, blue shield, whatever the medical program is, these people are getting free rides,” said one man.

Council Chairman James Bobeck said council plans to do performance evaluations of county workers.

“Why? Because we have the ability to change what divisions work together or not, what departments are needed, what are not, that’s something we can change. That’s going to take a personnel audit.”

Some taxpayers say there is a need for a tax increase, just to give the new council time to make cuts for the 2013 budget.

“During the coming months you can use a scalpel to do it instead of a sickle which what would be proposed to do if you don’t allow any kind of a tax increase here.”

Council says it will be right back in this same spot in just eight months; that’s when the budget for 2013 is due.

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