Property owners in Lansford will see their next tax bill take a big bite out of their budgets: Borough council on Monday adopted a $1,581,701 spending plan that carries a 4.30-mill – 17.12 percent – tax increase.

The hike means the owner of a home with a taxable value of $25,000 will pay $735.25 in property tax next year. That's up from $627.75 this year.

The tax increase was largely driven by jumps in the cost of health care and police pension benefits. The borough has hired two additional full-time police officers, who earn wages and benefits, and the pension fund cost has risen from $68,000 to almost $100,000, said council president Bob Gaughan.

The 2010 millage rate is 29.41, up from 25.11 mills this year. Each mill generates $34,057.

However, the borough is only able to collect about 83 percent of tax revenue, said secretary/treasurer Nicole Tessitore. That prompted councilman Tommy Vadyak to call for the borough to review its tax records to see who's paying and who is not. Those council members attending the meeting supported the move.

Gaughan said the review would be done by borough employees and perhaps Panther Valley High School students who could use the work to fulfill their mandatory community service. All tax records are public, and the students would be well supervised, he said.

Gaughan said the borough reviewed tax records several years ago, but it's time for an update.

A Dec. 8 letter from Berkheimer Tax Administrator, the borough's tax collector, bolstered the decision. The letter said one borough business, Jet Data, has claimed no employees in the borough since late 2008.

Council members Joseph Ondrus, Ron Hood, Mary Kruczek and Gaughan voted to adopt the 2010 budget. Vadyak cast the sole opposing vote, and councilmen Dwight Penberth and Lenny Kovach were absent.

Kruczek said she was dismayed by the lack of public involvement in the budget process.

Public attendance at a series of budget meetings was nil. William "Jiggs" Watkins attended Monday's special meeting. Tom Peto, who lives in Langhorne, Bucks County, but owns property in the borough, wrote a letter protesting the tax increase, saying people could not afford in these lean economic times. Peto's letter asked council to require employees to pay 30 percent toward their health benefits costs, "sell" the water authority and form a regional police force.

In police matters Monday, council approved a new, three-year contract for its five full-time officers (excluding the chief, who has his own contract) that grants 2 percent wage increases in each year. As of Jan. 1, a patrolman who has been on the job for at least three years would make $20.71 an hour. That would increase to $21.71 an hour on Jan. 1, 2011 and to $21.54 an hour on Jan. 1, 2012.

The sergeant would make $21.61 an hour on Jan. 1, 2010; $22.04 an hour on Jan. 1, 2011 and $22.48 an hour on Jan. 1, 2012.

New to the contract is a shift differential. Officers will be paid an additional 25 cents an hour for working shifts or portions of shifts between 5 -11 p.m. They'll be paid an additional 30 cents an hour for working between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m.

Officers make 70 percent of the hourly rate for their first six months on the job. from 6-12 months, they make 75 percent of the rate; from 12-18 months they make 80 percent; from 18-24 months, 85 percent; from 24-36 months, 90 percent, and from then on, the full rate.