Pittston Council on Wednesday night passed the first reading of a $6.9 million budget that holds the line on taxes and offers qualified homeowners an average of $100 in property tax savings.
The tax rate will remains at 6.85 mills, or a $6.85 tax on each $1,000 of assessed property value.
The proposed $6,990,073 million balanced spending plan is up $727,495 from 2012.
The recently passed Home Rule charter allows for a Homestead exemption, which will allow a property owner who lives in a primary residence in Pittston to deduct $15,000 from the property's assessment when computing city property taxes. The savings amounts to an average discount of $102.75 for each eligible property.
Pittston Mayor Jason Klush said he is keeping with his campaign promise of reduced taxes.
The Homestead exclusion represents the first meaningful real estate property tax reduction to Pittston city taxpayers in decades or longer, Klush said.
Luzerne County and the Pittston Area School District offer a similar Homestead tax break. District residents pay on average $106 less and Luzerne County offers an approximately $52 discount.
Council also raised the city's Earned Income Tax from 1 percent to 1.5 percent, a measure that was included as part of Home Rule. The extra half percent is expected to bring in an additional $500,000.
City manager Joe Moskovitz said insurance and pension costs have increased significantly.
Those two areas are of concern to the administration, Moskovitz said.
He said they're of concern because they are out of the city's control.
He said insurance costs are on the rise.
A number of frivolous lawsuits filed against the city during difficult economic times is part of the explanation, Moskovitz said.
He said the city is forming a safety committee in 2013 to reduce workers' compensation incidents and improve safety procedures.
The goal, Moskovitz said, would be lower insurance costs.
He added the pension struggle is coming home to roost, indicating the city's contribution to pensions is in excess of $250,000.
It's becoming a serious stress to the operating budget, Moskovitz said.
Poor stock market performance and a reduction in state funding are the primary reasons, according to Moskovitz.
The city's police department is one of the largest expenses in the budget.
The department's budget jumped from $811,215 in 2012 to $1,079,747 in 2013. Much of the increase is due to an agreement with Dupont to take over that borough's police service. Dupont is expected to pay Pittston $130,000 in 2013 for 24-hour police protection.
When discussing the deal at the council meeting, Kluch said, We're not going into this to lose money.
The city will get a percentage of traffic fines issued by its department on the highways that run through Dupont, notably state Route 315. The policing agreement will be hammered out in December.
Police Chief Robert Powers will earn $55,014 in 2013, $151,545 is budgeted for three sergeants and $282,000 is budgeted for the remaining officers.
The police force has six full-time officers and 14 part-timers. Moskovitz said two additional police officers are in the budget, but the positions are not filled. He said with the addition of Dupont, the force may need to add them.
The fire department's budget will be $884,366 and Fire Chief Jim Rooney will earn $53,460.
Administration costs are budgeted at $71,650 for 2013. The mayor earns $3,000 a year, each councilman and the controller earns $2,000. Auditing services are set at $13,000.
Under the Home Rule charter, the city clerk position was eliminated and combined with the city manager. Moskovitz said his salary as City Administrator will be set at $65,000 when the 2013 budget is passed. Operations Coordinator David Allen Hines will earn $36,050. In tax collection, $14,000 is budgeted for the elected tax collector/treasurer Kathy Cunard, $35,686 is budgeted for a tax office manger and $63,205 is budgeted for two clerks.
Executive Director of the Office of Community Development Joe Chacke will earn $46,350, an assistant earns $35,686 and a bookkeeper earns $27,583.
Home Rule transition expenses are budgeted for $5,000.
Capital construction and purchases were almost $200,000 in 2012, but that item was eliminated for 2013. Moskovitz said the money was used for downtown development, purchase of equipment, a salt shed and other expenditures.
The city plans to hire a part-time health officer in 2013 to assist with restaurant inspections and property maintenance issues.
Moskovitz said the last time Pittston had a health officer was 2006 and didn't fill the position because of a change in state certification requirements.
Landfill costs are down $20,000 in the 2013 budget. Moskovitz said reduced tipping fees can be contributed to increased recycling by residents.
On the revenue side, the city expects $2.6 million in taxes, $2.4 million in various government funding, $100,000 in licenses and permits and $56,000 in fines and forfeitures.
The final budget is expected to be passed on Dec. 19.
In other business, the council:
• Announced there would be free downtown parking for the month of December.
• Appointed John Alfano, of Searle Street, Pittston as a part-time Parking Enforcement Officer at a rate of $12 an hour. The position has a line item in the 2013 budget for $12,000, but the city and the parking authority hope to come to an agreement on funding the position. Alfano would start in January.
• Appointed Michael Stella, of North Main Street, Pittston as a temporary full-time CDL driver for the Department of Parks and Recreation at $15 an hour.
• Appointed Joseph Long , of Welsh Street, Jenkins Township, to the Pittston Memorial Library Board. His term will expire on Oct. 16, 2014.
• Authorized the solicitor to prepare an ordinance to change Butler Alley, alongside DeMuro's Pizza, from a two-way street to a one-way street, going south to north.
The budget jumped from $811,215 in 2012 to $1,079,747 in 2013. Much of the increase is due to an agreement with Dupont to take over that borough's police service. The Dupont is expected to pay Pittston $130,000 in 2013 for 24-hour police protection.