Williamsport City Council on Thursday approved a $ 28.3 million tax-free budget at first reading.
However, several of its members suggested that amendments were necessary to possibly increase this fiscal mileage. It could happen next week.
Currently, the mileage is $ 16.22 or $ 1,622 per property valued at $ 100,000.
Mayor Derek Slaughter, who answered questions from council, said he presented a budget that started from zero and covered contractual obligations, and nothing else.
This was because he was unsure whether to add carry-over or reserve funds because the administration was unsure whether the previous year’s expenses were accurate until an audit. be carried out.
Without the audit, he said, the city doesn’t know how many “Mixture of money” which occurred during the previous administration.
Instead, Slaughter said his administration is working hard to get better financial software to deliver “real time” The data.
He said he had presented a budget, working closely with Joseph Pawlak, the city’s interim finance director, which reflects the “Numbers” as precisely as possible.
“We are fixing it” he said, adding that the city was not sure what or if it should repay state and federal transit funds. He assured taxpayers that the appropriate procedures had been followed since taking office in early January 2020. ” We are on the right path. “
Adam Yoder, one of two council members who voted against the city’s $ 28.3 million budget for 2022 without a tax hike, said the city would face a $ 1.8 million deficit if the $ 900,000 or more in the US bailout fund and what is in the reserve fund would be cut. Councilor Bonnie Katz also recorded a “no” vote.
Yoder said he was “conflict” mainly by process and strategy and said the budget was âBarebones with few solutions to mitigate this. “
The Council had eight days to review and understand the budget and a total of 15 days to pass it, he said, adding: âI think we need concrete plans to close the deficit. “
Yoder said if the administration had presented the budget proposal earlier in the year, it would have resulted in a more collaborative effort and provided more context for the board to make the most important decision it makes each year on behalf of taxpayers.
Subsequently, Slaughter said “Extreme circumstances” put the city “between the devil and the deep sea.”
Additionally, a recent River Valley Transit audit indicated a deficit of $ 11 million and a possible mix of state and federal funds related to the operation of the buses and the operation of the Hiawatha riverboat.
Meanwhile, the city remains the subject of a criminal investigation by State Attorney General Josh Shapiro regarding the use by Transportation Bureau (RVT) management of federal and state grants between 2009 and 2019. .
Reluctantly, Miele, chair of the finance committee, said she would vote in favor of the plan for changes, which could include a slight increase in mileage to provide a cushion and avoid a future shock to taxpayers.
“I will support this budget by thinking of the amendments next week”, Miele said.
She also asked the administration to include a written budget statement briefly explaining each of the department’s roles in future budgets.
“I don’t think we can fix the problem by next week, but we can make it fairer for employees and taxpayers” Miele said. By raising the tax rate by a tiny thousandth, the city can make up for any shortfall when it doesn’t have the $ 900,000-plus US bailout to invest and avoid a shock along the way. , she said.
In an effort to explain why the city might need a tax rate hike and fully commit to a comprehensive strategic economic development plan, board chairman Randall Allison compared the payroll tax , the tax on trade privileges and property taxes of 2017 to those proposed in this document. budget.
The payroll tax showed an improvement of only $ 50,000 over the period, indicating a need for job creation and higher wages.
Second, he said, the trade lien tax was fixed and the property tax increase was $ 1 million.
This million dollars is “Make us pass”, Allison said.
The economic formula that is going forward is a strategy to improve the economic prospects of the city, as these are “bare” budgets with little capacity to downsize, most of whom are unionized and protected by collective agreements.
In terms of updating Town Hall, Gannett-Fleming will inspect Town Hall, which remains doomed due to water damage.
From the inspection it will be determined how much cost is involved to repair the building. Adam Winder, general manager of River Valley Transit and former acting general manager of the public works department, said he had heard those costs, including the removal of load-bearing walls, would be $ 20 million.
However, Gannett-Fleming had to provide a real-time analysis of the building’s needs.
The next council meeting is Thursday at 7 p.m. These are in person at Trade and Transit Center II and broadcast live.