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Small tax hike in new budget

Published December 11. 2010 09:00AM

Lehighton residents will see only a small tax increase in 2011, thanks to the borough owning its own electric distribution system.

A tentative budget adopted by the council this week includes a quarter-mill tax increase.

However, the borough will take an additional $80,000 in 2011 from the Light and Power Department for use in the general fund.

The borough presently transfers $650,000 per year to the general fund from the Light and Power Department.

The tentative budget was passed by a 5-2 vote of council. Initially it was a 6-1 vote with Council President Grant Hunsicker opposed, stating, "I don't want a tax increase."

Council member John Bird then changed is vote from "yes" to "no."

Lehighton has one of the lowest tax rates of all boroughs in Carbon County at 4.25 mills. This includes a half-mill for fire apparatus and equipment.

Borough Treasurer Nicole Beckett presented the tentative budget to the council and offered these three options:

• 1. Increase taxes by 2.25 mills.

• 2. Transfer an additional $80,000 from the Light and Power Department into the general account and raise taxes by a quarter of a mill.

• 3. Increase the transfer from the Light and Power Department to $100,000 and have no tax increase.

The council assured the second option will have no impact on electric rates. The only way electric rates will rise is if the supplier, Amp-Ohio, raises its prices.

Final adoption of the budget is planned for the Dec. 20 meeting of the council. The meeting will be held at 7:30 p.m. in the Municipal Building.

Numerous questions about spending in 2011 were raised by council member Dale Traupman.

One concern was that the budget reflected an increase of $300,000 in borough salaries over a three-year period. He said in 2009, salaries totaled $1.6 million; in 2010 they totaled $1.7 million, and in the new budget they total $1.9 million.

"To me that's excessive growth in government," Traupman said.

He pointed out that the budget shows a salary for a new borough manager but also indicates overtime for the borough's office staff. He charged that if a borough manager is hired, there shouldn't have to be overtime for the office.

Office workers said there would still be some overtime in the interim until the manager is hired - if one is hired - and for training and transition of the new manager.

Another major concern to Traupman is that the new budget indicates revenues of $340,000 from real estate taxes. He said there are some residents who will be delinquent, but the full total is still shown in the budget.

Beckett said it's required that the anticipated real estate tax revenue be shown, even if it isn't collected right away.

"We're only going to get $321,000 of the $340,000," Traupman said, adding, "the income is overstated."

Traupman then returned to the overtime issue.

"This is the only place I know where people dictate their overtime," he said. "Nobody questions that. We have an uncontrolled situation here."

Councilman Scott Rehrig indicated the overtime is needed to get the work done required of the employees. Traupman responded he's not questioning the overtime, it's just that "we have no control."

"You do have that authority," said attorney James Nanovic. "You can say there's to be no overtime."

Beckett made some revisions in the budget figures, including overtime calculations. She said administrative staff salaries were reduced by $2,060 with the expectation that overtime will be reduced in 2011.

In addition, full-time police officer overtime was sliced by $8,000.

Beckett also reduced parking meter enforcement expenses by $12,000 and eliminated the purchase of a hand-held computer.

A long list of other cuts was indicated in Beckett's budget proposal.

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