Proposed County Budget Includes 3 Percent Property Tax Increase
WILKES-BARRE — Luzerne County’s proposed 2019 budget, which county Manager David Pedri unveiled at tonight’s county council meeting, includes a 3 percent property tax increase.
The proposed tax hike would add about $18 to the annual county tax bill for a property assessed at $100,000. The county’s millage rate would increase from 5.9754 mills to 6.1547 mills. A mill is $1 in tax for every $1,000 in assessed value.
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 $140,947,657 budget calls for an increase of $2.52 million in expenditures compared to this year. It also projects a decrease of about $630,000 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 budget proposal would leave slightly more than $1 million in the county’s reserve fund next year.
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.
County council will hold a series of budget work sessions and hearings over the next two months, 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 later tonight, Pedri said.