Tax Hike for Wilkes-Barre, No Word on Firefighters

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WILKES-BARRE -- In Wilkes-Barre, taxes are going up and laid off firefighters still don't know when they'll be able to come back to work. Tonight the revised Wilkes-Barre budget for 2013 passed at a city council meeting.

It was a meeting that included angry homeowners and crowds of firefighters, but Wilkes-Barre City Council passed next year's budget unanimously.

The budget calls for a 26% property tax hike.

For the average homeowner, that's about $150 more each year. However, some homeowners, like Jim Burden, said the tax should be applied to renters as well.

"Hit them with some taxes, not just the homeowners. They should start paying their fair share because they get the same services that we get," said Jim Burden, a homeowner.

Services like fire safety. City council still hasn't announced plans to re-hire any of the 11 firefighters who were laid off last month. However, Mayor Tom Leighton said it's not because he doesn't want to.

"My goal is to really bring them back. I don't want to bring them back prematurely and have to do what I did this year next year. Nobody wants to be laid off at any time of the year, and it was very difficult for me to do it around the holidays," said Mayor Leighton.

Firefighter Union President Mike Bilski said now that the budget has passed. He hopes the city puts the money to good use. Like re-hiring those laid off firefighters.

"They just started receiving their unemployment and stuff like that and all these guys have been trained. They've been trained by the Philadelphia Firefighter Academy or LCC. They are firefighters and they need to be doing their job, and that's all there is to it," said Bilski.

Mayor Leighton said part of the city's budget problem stems from CENTAX. That's the tax company that still owes Wilkes-Barre roughly $1 million.

Leighton said because CENTAX filed for bankruptcy, he does not know when that money will come through, but he said when it does, he should be able to re-hire those laid off firefighters.