Lansford borough officials are continuing to craft a 2010 budget, trimming expenses where they can and hoping to avoid a property tax increase.

Budget talks are planned for 6:30 p.m. Thursday and Dec. 7 in the borough office above the fire station on Patterson Street. A special meeting for budget and finance and general purposes is scheduled for 6 p.m. Dec. 21 at the community center on Ridge Street.

Currently, the property tax is 25.11 mills. That means the owner of a home assessed at $25,000 pays $627 a year. However, many homeowners continue to struggle with un-or-underemployment, and have been unable to pay their taxes.

Each mill generates $34,057 in revenue; if everyone paid their taxes, that would bring and an estimated $855,171 into borough coffers. But Lansford's collection rate is a dismal 83 percent, according to borough secretary/treasurer Nicole Tessitore.

That leaves officials with the task of stretching already thin dollars to cover absolute necessities. They have begun making cuts, including a 2 percent pay increase for non-union employees, and shopping around for a different health insurance provider.

The borough now pays $187,780 a year for its 13 employees' coverage. But that cost is expected to increase by $90,000 next year, so officials are researching alternative plans.

In addition, a pending police contract, an increase in Workers' Compensation and insurance and the Police Pension Minimum Municipal Obligation also need to be factored into next year's spending plan.

A final budget must be in place by year's end.