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Proposed Easton budget springs a leak; higher parking fees could help plug it

By Len Righi, WFMZ.com Reporter
Published On: Nov 13 2012 10:41:56 PM CST
EASTON, Pa. -

A little more than a month ago, Mayor Sal Panto's proposed a 2013 budget with no tax hike. On Tuesday night, Panto told city council there's a $161,690 hole in his $31.1 million budget, because of a larger-than-expected increase in costs at the city's wastewater treatment facility.

Panto told council members during a budget review of department expenses that he was made aware of the shortfall last week by the Easton Area Joint Sewer Authority.

Easton public works director Dave Hopkins said the main reason for higher costs at the treatment plant is a chemical used in new equipment required as part of the plant's renewal permit.

If Easton residents were asked to make up the difference in their sewer bills, they would pay about 2.75 percent more next year, Panto said, adding the shortfall represents about a half-mill in property taxes.

Panto and members of council are determined not to raise sewer fees or property taxes, so they once again turned to increased parking fees to drum up more revenue.

In the budget Panto presented in October, the mayor projected $190,000 in extra revenue if parking meter rates were raised from 50 to 75 cents an hour and the hours of operation were extended from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 1 to 6 p.m. Sundays in the downtown area.

Tuesday night, Panto and council members coalesced around the idea of boosting the meter rate even further -- to $1 an hour throughout the city -- and extending the hours of operation even more -- from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday and noon to 9 p.m. Sundays. City finance director Chris Heagele will estimate just how much more revenue will be raised at Wednesday night's council meeting.

Council member Jeff Warren raised a concern about raising the meter rate from 50 cents to $1 an hour, saying, "I'm not sure we want to put that shock on businesses downtown."

Heagele replied, "I don't think people are going to change their shopping habits over 25 cents."

Panto and council also proposed a plan that would protect downtown churchgoers from being ticketed while they attend Sunday services. Congregation members would be given placards to place inside their cars that would be good for free parking until 3 p.m., they decided.