County Council Ready To Dissect 2019 Budget Proposal
Now it’s Luzerne County Council’s turn to dig into the county’s proposed 2019 budget.
County Manager David Pedri presented his budget proposal Tuesday night. It calls for a 3 percent property tax increase, which Pedri said is needed to offset increased expenditures on health care costs, pension contributions and debt service payments.
Under the proposed
$140.95 million balanced budget, the annual county tax bill would increase by about $18 for a property assessed at $100,000.
Council will hold a series of work sessions over the next two months, to discuss the budget allocation for each county department, before the final budget vote scheduled for Dec. 11.
Those work sessions could see sharp debate as council combs the budget line-by-line for every dollar that can be saved, according to council members.
After Pedri finished his budget presentation Tuesday, councilmen Stephen A. Urban and Edward Brominski objected, noting that senior citizens and those on fixed incomes are being crushed by an ever-increasing tax burden.
Councilman Harry Haas also called for cuts to expenses. On Wednesday, Haas cited the county elections bureau as a potential place to find savings.
Council in April voted to purchase an electronic poll book system, to make voting faster and more secure on election days.
Also, Pedri approved a new election services associate position in July, after finding funding for it, even though council had rejected the position last fall, during discussions for this year’s budget.
Now that the elections bureau has new technology and more employees, council should find any expense that can be cut in the bureau’s budget, Haas said.
Councilwoman Linda McClosky Houck said council will need to discuss how to use the county’s reserve fund and how much money to keep in the fund next year.
Houck said she plans to closely scrutinize the budgets of all county departments, and ask department heads whether they used “zero-based budgeting” — basically, starting the budget process from scratch — when compiling their funding requests.
It will be a greater challenge to reduce or eliminate the proposed tax hike in the 2019 budget than it was for this year’s budget, council members said.
Last fall, Pedri proposed a 2 percent tax increase for 2018, but soon after that, the county restructured its long-term debt, saving millions of dollars. Citing that savings, council voted to eliminate the proposed tax increase.
There will be no debt restructuring this year, nor is any similar windfall likely, said council Chairman Tim McGinley.
“I think we will have a lot of discussion,” McGinley said. “As we go through the budget work sessions we will see some positive results.”
Eliminating the tax hike completely will likely not happen because of the spike in forced expenditures, especially a $4.26 million increase in debt service payments, council Vice Chairman Eugene Kelleher said.
“Whether it’s 3 or 2 or 1 (percent), there’s going to have to be some tax increase,” he said.
The only alternative would be to cut services, Kelleher said. He said he welcomes suggestions about specific cost-saving measures from people who study the budget proposal.
“It’s easy to say ‘no, don’t do this,’” Kelleher said. “You can speak in generic terms about what we shouldn’t do ... but how do we structure the budget?”
The first work session, to discuss the budgets of the public defender’s office and the administrative services division, will be held at 5 p.m. Tuesday at the county courthouse.
The 2019 budget proposal can be viewed on the county website: http://pa-luzernecounty.civicplus.com/Archive.aspx?AMID=56.
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