Pedri Proposes 3 Percent Tax Hike For 2019
WILKES-BARRE — Luzerne County’s proposed 2019 general fund budget — which county Manager David Pedri unveiled Tuesday night — includes a 3 percent property tax increase.
The tax hike is needed to offset increased expenses, such as debt service payments, health care costs and pension fund obligations, Pedri told county council. The county also overestimated anticipated revenue in the past, Pedri said.
The proposed tax hike would add about $18 to the annual county tax bill for a property assessed at $100,000. The bill would increase from $597.54 to $615.47.
“This is the starting point of a marathon,” Pedri told council members, who will spend the next two months debating and dissecting the budget proposal.
Pedri did not request any new positions in the budget, which includes merit-based raises of up to 3 percent for county employees not represented by unions. The raises would be based on employee performance reviews, and not everyone would receive the full 3 percent wage increase, Pedri said.
The proposed $140.95 million budget calls for an increase of $2.52 million in expenditures compared to this year. It also projects a decrease of $790,000 in revenue.
Pedri said previous years’ budgets contained overly aggressive revenue projections the county consistently failed to meet. The 2019 revenue projections are more realistic, he said.
The county faces an increase of $4.26 million in debt service payments next year, bringing the debt payment for the year to slightly more than $25 million.
Pedri said the county’s financial situation has improved over the past few years, but it still owes close to $300 million in long-term debt.
He compared the county to a patient recovering from an emergency medical event.
“We got out of the ICU, now we are in the physical therapy stage,” he said. “We still have a long way to go.”
The county needs to maintain its bond-worthy credit rating, since county officials will likely need to borrow millions of dollars in 2019 to pay for upgrades to the county’s voting machines and 911 emergency communication system, Pedri said.
Council members who voted against the renewal of Pedri’s contract last month opposed his proposed 2019 budget on Tuesday.
“I’m not going to vote for any more (taxes), I’m really not,” Councilman Stephen A. Urban said.
He urged Pedri to “do a little cost containment” on health care and other expenses.
Councilman Edward Brominski noted that senior citizens on fixed incomes are suffering under an ever-increasing tax burden. He suggested the budget should reflect a 3 percent decrease in the tax rate, rather than an increase.
“Let’s see how well we can do with a 3 percent decrease,” Brominski said. “Some of us are facing hundred-dollar increases in our tax rate and some of us cannot afford it. … Let the manager show his abilities.”
County council will hold a series of budget work sessions and hearings this fall, prior to approving the county’s final budget on Dec. 11.
The first budget work session will be at 5 p.m. on Oct. 16 at the county courthouse.
The budget proposal will be posted to the county website, Pedri said.
The county’s millage rate would increase from 5.9754 mills to 6.1547 mills under the proposed budget. A mill is $1 in tax for every $1,000 in assessed value.
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Luzerne County 2019 budget proposal at a glance:
n 3 percent property tax increase.
n Increase of about $18 in annual county tax for a property assessed at $100,000.
n Budget is balanced at $140,947,657 in revenue and expenditures.
n No new positions requested.
n Merit-based raises of up to 3 percent for non-unionized county employees.
n The county’s annual debt service payment will increase by $4.26 million.
n County council will hold budget work sessions and hearings this fall.
n Council is scheduled to approve the county’s final 2019 budget on Dec. 11.