Lackawanna County Losing Inmates and Money

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SCRANTON -- Property taxes in Lackawanna County could be going up even more than expected. Last week, commissioners put out their proposed budget that included a four percent hike in taxes.

But, the county has since received some news about state money they were counting on.

The surprise budget shortfall has to do with changes at the Lackawanna County Prison in Scranton. Commissioners had planned on an increase of state inmates, but that's not happening anymore. As a result, the budget Lackawanna County just released may have to be changed.

Lackawanna County Commissioners are taking their 2013 proposed budget back to the drawing board after learning that the county may get almost $2 million less in revenue next year than they had budgeted for.

The news came in the form of a letter saying the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections will be pulling state inmates from all county prisons.

Lackawanna County Commissioner Jim Wansacz says that means a significant loss of revenue for 2013.

As to whether or not the property tax rate in Lackawanna County will change, Wansacz said, "I sure hope not."

Commissioners already blamed rising costs at the prison as a reason for raising property taxes an additional 4% for next year. Now, it seems the prison's financial burden on the county is getting bigger.

Lackawanna County makes money for each state inmate who is housed in Scranton and commissioners had actually planned on more of that revenue for next year. But, the state Department of Corrections has changed its mind and there won't be any state inmates here at all.

According to the letter commissioners' received, this change is part of a cost saving plan by the state. But, Wansacz says it comes at the county's expense.

"What I personally see is the state is continuing to cut and passing it down. Whether it's a school district, whether it's a county, whether it's a local government, all they're doing is making the cuts there and passing it down," Wansacz said.

Commissioners say they're working on a solution to close this surprise budget gap and are trying to avoid an even higher tax increase.

"Right now, were looking at everything, we can't give you that answer yet," Wansacz added.

Lackawanna County Commissioners held a series of budget hearings last week. No word on whether they'll have to do that again if the budget should change.

The 2013 Lackawanna County budget needs to be finalized by December 1.