SCRANTON — Mayor Chris Doherty presented his 2013 budget to Scranton City Council Thursday afternoon. Thursday was the deadline to do so according to the Home Rule Charter.
Council did not have enough time to put it on the agenda for the meeting Thursday night, but the finance chair did give a brief overview.
There were no real surprises as most of the details had already been laid out when the mayor and council worked together on a recovery plan, needed to help fill gaps in this year’s budget.
“Last year the budget was slightly over $85 million. This year the budget is over $109 million,” said Frank Joyce, city council finance chair.
While the mayor submitted his plan before the deadline outlined by the Home Rule Charter, it was not able to be on the agenda or discussed in detail at council’s meeting. However, Joyce did give a brief overview.
“As dictated by the revised recovery plan and as promised, the real estate tax in the budget has been limited to 12%,” said Joyce.
The proposed budget was a joint venture between the mayor and council.
Facing budget shortfalls earlier this year, they had to work together to come up with a recovery plan to get loans to help dig the city out of a financial hole. This is what they came up with for the 2013 budget: no layoffs for city employees like police and firefighters; a 12 percent property tax hike that should increase at that rate for three years. Wage taxes, local services taxes, and the refuse fee will stay the same.
The mayor said the 2013 budget is contingent upon a judge’s approval of a one percent commuter tax for people who work in Scranton but do not live there. If it’s not approved, the proposed budget may change.
“I think that’s probably a bridge that we’ll cross when we encounter that, but certainly there are ideas that have been discussed between the mayor and council to fill that gap should that occur,” said Janet Evans, council president.
As it stands now, the 2013 budget is getting mixed reviews from some taxpayers.
“I think the 12 percent tax hike is a political gimmick because the next election is coming, and if you notice in the second round, the tax increase is double that, and as far as no layoffs, the city employees didn’t borrow this money,” said Lee Morgan of Scranton.
Joyce said the biggest contributor to the increase in the 2013 budget is the state Supreme Court ruling saying that the city must pay more than $17 million to members of the police and fire unions, money the city will have to borrow.
Council will formally present the proposed 2013 budget at its November 29 meeting. While the mayor and council worked together to come up with the proposed budget, council still needs to officially approve it by December 15.