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Lehighton Borough proposes tax hike

Published December 16. 2013 05:00PM

Security measures planned for borough offices in Lehighton are contributing to a tax increase proposed for the borough.

Lehighton Borough Council hosts its regular monthly meeting at 7:30 tonight, but budget adoption won't occur until a special meeting at 9:30 a.m. Friday.

Tentative adoption of the budget occurred at a special meeting on Dec. 9 and several increases are planned.

The 2014 calls for real estate taxes to rise to 7.5 mills. The present tax rate is 6.5 mills. It was 4.5 mills two years ago.

In addition, the borough council plans to enact a "local services tax." At present, the borough has a $10 per year occupational privilege tax.

The local services tax will be $52 per year and is expected to generate $82,000 per year for the borough.

And, the borough has instructed its solicitor to look into implementing a 5 percent cable franchise tax. The tax would be imposed on cable TV companies, which would then pass it onto their customers.

The borough also has a 6-mill occupation tax, a 1 percent real estate transfer tax, a 1 percent earned income tax, and a $10 local service tax.

Nicole Beckett, borough manager, said originally the council considered a budget with no tax increases.

However, after further analysis, it was decided to add the 1 mill increase to "change the borough hall and make it more secure, complete some projecs, and to create a system to make borough employees more accountable."

Beckett said there were increased costs for pension and health insurance. Health insurance costs will rise about 9 percent, which is the first increase to the borough in over four years, Beckett said.

The cable franchise fee had been proposed in the past, but was always rejected. Blue Ridge Communications has an office on First Street in Lehighton and a customer service location on Iron Street, employing well over 100 people.

A cable franchise tax applies to cable companies but not satellite dish service, which creates a disadvantage to the local employer and cable provider, claim Blue Ridge officials.

Fred Reinhard, chairman of Blue Ridge Communications, and Jeff Reinhard, CEO, signed a letter written to Lehighton Borough Council expressing opposition to the potential adoption of a cable franchise tax.

It stated:

"We are writing on behalf of Blue Ridge Communications subscribers and employees to express our disappointment that the borough is considering imposing a 5 percent cable franchise tax.

"We understand the borough has financial needs, but think it is unfair to single out Blue Ridge Cable subscribers to shoulder this burden.

"At Blue Ridge, we work very hard to keep our rates as low as possible while providing the best service and paying fair wages and benefits to our employees. An additional 5 percent tax on our subscribers raises the rates on just one group and gives our out-of-state satellite competitors an unfair price advantage.

"We realize that this Cable Tax is used in other places, but we have always considered Lehighton to be our home. When we chose to renovate our First Street office and our Iron Street Call Center instead of moving our 125 employees out of town, the fact that Lehighton has always treated us fairly was a significant factor in the decision to stay.

"Please reconsider the impact on Blue Ridge subscribers and employees and do not impose the cable tax."

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