Pittston Council on Wednesday night passed a $6.62 million budget that offers qualified homeowners an average of $100 in property tax savings.
The city's tax rate will remain at 6.85 mills, or a $6.85 tax on each $1,000 of assessed property value.
The recently passed Home Rule charter calls 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.
The $6,623,924 million balanced spending plan increases the city's Earned Income Tax from 1 percent to 1.5 percent. Some of that will pay for the Homestead property tax reduction.
Mayor Jason Klush said the administration is proud of the budget.
As any objective observer would have to admit, as we look at municipal funding issues throughout our region and state, as well as the nation, we need to look no further than our neighboring cities in Wilkes-Barre, Scranton and Hazleton, Klush said. With the issues confronting them, the tax increases the taxpayers in those communities are facing are large. We've avoided that.
Klush said the 0.5 percent increase in the city's Earned Income tax as a result of the Home Rule measure represents the first tax increase the city has seen in 3 years.
Also we are very proud that during these challenging economic times the city of Pittston has seen revitalization in the downtown, new planned residential and commercial construction, Klush said. And as 2013 approaches, the city finds itself well positioned for the challenges of the future.
City administrator Joe Moskovitz said 60 percent of the budget is salary and benefits.
There's little room for discretionary funding, he said.
Moskovitz said there are increased expenditures in the new budget for property maintenance and code issues.
Substandard, deteriorating and unoccupied homes and street crowding causes the tax base to decline. The city's neighborhoods initiative will make improvements to combat such problems. Sprucing up neighborhoods, acquiring tax sale and foreclosure properties, tax rebates, creating a housing impact team and imposing a moratorium on converting single homes to apartments are all planned.
We're making blight removal a priority, Moskovitz said. To do that, we'll need to pump resources into it, such as more man hours in code enforcement.
He said the administration will consider making part time code enforcement officer Harry Smith full time. And zoning chief David Hines will be utilized as well.
We need more boots on the ground, Moskovitz said.
Moskovitz said a part-time parking enforcement officer was added to the budget as well. The city recently upgraded the downtown parking meters and police officers don't have time to check the meters.
We need the officers doing police work not meter collections, he said.
He compared it to the Pittston of years past when parking spots were readily available, but nobody was parking in them because there were few businesses downtown.
We have a good problem downtown: not enough parking, Moskovitz said. Our downtown is attractive and it's attracting new clientele that need to park.
The $12,000 expense of the parking enforcement officer could be shared by the city's parking authority.
Moskovitz said the parking meters are not only generating revenue for the city, they're generating revenue for downtown merchants as well because of turnover.
One capital expense is a $180,000, 25-cubic-yard recycling packer, with the first payment of $40,000 due in 2013.
Moskovitz said the packer will either replace a 1997 packer or the city's recycling truck.
The city plans to switch to single stream recycling by mid-2013.
Single stream allows all recyclables to be collected at once. An education program will be implemented before it is rolled out.
Our (recycling) volume is up and our (garbage) tipping fees are down, Moskovitz said.
Moskovitz said a smaller packer will be purchased because of the narrowness of some of the streets in the Oregon section and other sections.
The $130,000 originally budgeted to take over police patrols in Dupont has been removed because no agreement was reached.
Other highlights include $300,000 for the Minimum Municipal Obligation for the city's pension plans, a 18.9 percent increase, or $75,000 more, from 2012. Also, $12,500 for the replacement of City Hall's computer server and $10,000 for the home rule transition; $100,000 for workers compensation. Healthcare for city workers is up 6.5 percent.
Of the revenues, 34 percent is from real estate taxes, 25 percent is from income and per capita taxes, 14 percent is from service fees, 9 percent from reimbursements and fund balance, 8 percent from transfers and other revenue and refunds, 5 percent from intergovernmental and 5 percent from interest, rent, cost recovery, licenses, fine and forfeits.
Of the expenses, 26 percent goes to the police department, 19 percent goes to the sanitation and street department, 17 percent goes to the fire department, 8 percent goes to debt service, 8 percent goes to administration; 6 percent goes to solicitor, OCD, payroll, engineer, City Hall, EMA and the Ambulance Association; 5 percent goes to the tax collector and treasurer; 4 percent goes to liability insurance, OPEM and miscellaneous; 3 percent goes to street infrastructure, plowing, signals, signs and street lights ; 2 percent goes to percent goes to BCO, code enforcement, zoning, boards and commissions; and 2 percent goes to fuel pumps, parks, Main Street, library and celebrations.