No property tax increase for 2022 in Wilkes-Barre Brown’s balanced budget of $ 54.4 million


WILKES-BARRE – With the help of $ 1.8 million in federal funds, Mayor George Brown maintained the city’s mileage rate and balanced his 2022 budget.

Brown unveiled his general fund budget of $ 54.4 million on Friday in a brief presentation at city hall attended by city council and department heads. This is an increase of $ 1.1 million from the current budget of $ 53.2 million.

Before the end of the year, Council will hold a public hearing and vote on the spending plan Brown wants to use to operate the largest city in Luzerne County.

The $ 1.8 million in US bailout funds, part of the $ 37.1 million allocated to the city this year as part of a massive COVID-19 recovery aid program signed by the President Joe Biden, have provided much needed help – but with conditions, not for the long haul.

US bailout funds cannot be used to consolidate underfunded pension plans or reduce taxes.

“The financial assistance provided through this initiative will give us the short-term flexibility we need to continue moving the city forward without adding to the financial pressures our taxpayers already face,” Brown said in his prepared speech. .

As his four-year term neared mid-term, Brown reiterated his commitment to operating the city under sound tax policies in order to provide high-quality services to residents and businesses.

“We have made an effort to focus on areas such as pensions, healthcare and various operational costs to help limit the burden on our taxpayers,” Brown said.

Council members mostly said they needed time to review the budget before commenting.

City Councilor Bill Barrett said his preliminary reaction was favorable.

“The city is doing well, we can cut costs,” added Councilor Mike Belusko.

Sewer maintenance and recycling fees, a point of contention between Brown and Council in this year’s budget, will drop to $ 50 with Council approval. Brown’s proposal to double them to $ 100 met with opposition from Council, leading him to increase the fee to $ 75.

Retirement costs, aided by a planned debt transaction that will lower the minimum municipal obligations of the five plans, are expected to drop by $ 873,093 next year and result in millions of dollars in savings going forward, Brown noted.

“Careful consideration of our health benefits has enabled us to reduce our health costs in 2022 by approximately $ 500,000,” said Brown.

Savings of $ 50,000 will be realized through a change of life insurance company in the city. Switching to dual-stream recycling from a single stream adds additional savings. Tipping charges for recycling are expected to drop from $ 175,000 to $ 75,000. But the waste offloading costs drop from $ 475,000 to $ 550,000, wiping out some of the recycling savings.

The city’s property tax will remain at 141.33 mills. Unlike all of the other municipalities in Luzerne County, Wilkes-Barre uses its own valuations rather than county values.

Property tax revenues are budgeted at $ 11.4 million, unchanged from this year. The 3% earned income tax is also unchanged and is expected to generate $ 15 million in revenue, an increase of $ 1 million from 2021.

Business taxes are expected to nearly double in 2022 to $ 1.9 million. The budget listed increases in business tax to $ 600,000 from $ 300,000 and business tax increases of $ 1.3 million from $ 675,000 this year.

Overall tax revenue for 2022 totals $ 32.9 million, an increase of $ 2.4 million over budgets year over year. Taxes represent 60.5% of the budget.

Brown has again included permit fees for three large construction projects that have yet to begin as budgeted revenue. However, the total was lowered to $ 2 million from $ 3.1 million.

South Main Street hotels and the former Sterling Hotel site and the Luzerne County Transportation Authority’s new transit facility along South Wilkes-Barre Boulevard “will open in 2022,” Brown said.

Brown, who had criticized his predecessor Tony George, including permit fees in his final 2020 budget, defended his use of fees to balance his 2022 budget.

“First of all, I don’t think it’s correct to compare Mayor George’s budget with ours. He did not face a pandemic. He did not face the fact that income was negatively affected. It also hasn’t had this situation where we have projects just waiting for the materials to be delivered to their sites so they can start construction, ”Brown said.

On the spending side, salaries and benefits for the city’s 273 workforce and retirees total $ 37.6 million or 69.2% of the 2022 budget. Salaries increase $ 969,650 to $ 20. $ 6 million in 2022, while employee benefits, including pensions, decline from $ 968,043 to $ 17 million.

Contact Jerry Lynott at 570-991-6120 or on Twitter @TLJerryLynott.

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