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Citizens Give Input On W-B Mayor’s Budget Proposal

November 9, 2018

WILKES-BARRE — A handful of citizens offered suggestions for increasing revenue at a public hearing on Mayor Tony George’s 2019 city budget proposal Thursday, while one person accused the mayor and his top administrator of wasting money. Bob Kadluboski, a frequent critic of the mayor, asked George and city Administrator Ted Wampole to resign, claiming that their decisions related to the police department cost taxpayers over $300,000 in arbitration and legal fees, and that hiring retired police officer Thomas Unvarsky as a parking enforcement manager at a $55,000 salary was unnecessary. Kadluboski claimed those decisions contributed to a budget deficit and called George a “self-serving political prostitute” before being admonished by council Chairman Tony Brooks for name-calling. George responded that Kadluboski’s statements were nothing more than his opinion. “You’re entitled to your opinion and I don’t agree with it. … It means nothing,” the mayor said. Resident Sam Troy suggested raising mercantile and business privilege taxes by a small percentage. Wampole said the city already has the highest mercantile and professional taxes in the area. Community activist Angel Jirau said the budget should include line items for cultural sensitivity training for all city employees, especially police officers. Police Commander Joe Coffay noted that sensitivity training is included in officers’ annual training. Resident Tom Dombroski said he didn’t think the city’s financial problems are “as great as everybody thinks they are,” and said the city could extend the term on loans to reduce annual payments. He also railed against some retirees receiving lifetime healthcare coverage and lifetime pension payments to surviving spouses of city retirees. Dombroski also suggested making daytime fire coverage volunteer rather than paid, claiming that “non-EMT firefighters are sitting there doing basically nothing and in fact taking advantage of the night shift and sleeping at $25 an hour — they’re sleeping at night if there are no fires.” Wampole said the administration restructured debt payments last year and received “a lot of negative feedback … and I don’t think there’s an appetite on the administration — and I don’t want to speak for council — to go and look at extending that debt out even further.” Wampole also said the administration can’t make changes to pension and healthcare benefits unilaterally; they have to be bargained with the unions. George said his administration lost in arbitration and court appeals when trying to reduce pension benefits. Resident John Suchoski suggested lowering the mayor’s $82,000 salary to $70,000 or $75,000 and bidding out landfill tipping fees to lower garbage collection expenses. Director of Operations Butch Frati said tipping fees aren’t the only consideration when it comes to choosing the best option for a landfill. And George noted he negotiated lower tipping fees with the current landfill when he took office. Simon Saba blamed nonprofits such as Wilkes University and King’s College for eroding the city tax base and advocated taxing them. George said he negotiated with officials at King’s and Wilkes when he took office, and they raised their voluntary contributions from about $50,000 or $60,000 to $100,000, but they refused to increase those amounts again. Brooks said the public will have another opportunity to comment on the budget at the next council meeting, during which he expects council will vote on its approval. The meeting will follow a 6 p.m. work session on Nov. 20 on the fourth floor of city hall, 40 E. Market St. Council unanimously approved all agenda items at the meeting that followed the budget hearing. Councilwoman Beth Gilbert read a proclamation congratulating EMT firefighter Harry McCarthy on his recent retirement and breaking the city record for most responses to calls during his more than 30-year career. Contact the writer: smocarsky@citizensvoice.com 570-821-2110, @MocarskyCV

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