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Easton City Council members bicker with adminstrators over budget line items

By Tom De Martini, WFMZ.com Reporter, news@wfmz.com
Published On: Oct 22 2013 09:50:07 PM CDT
EASTON, Pa. -

Easton City Council members, in their first conference since Mayor Sal Panto, Jr. introduced the 2014 budget on Oct. 1, bickered with administrators about the accuracy of revenue projections.

The $32.2 million budget features an $800,000 budget gap that is expected to be filled by earned income tax revenues. That's exactly what City Council member Roger Ruggles wanted to question Finance Director Chris Heagele about Tuesday night.

Ruggles thought the earned income tax collection projection of $1.5 million should be closer to $2 million, something that Heagele and City Administrator Glenn Steckman bristle.

"It's hard to project what the jump is going to be," Steckman said.

Heagele said commuters and self-employed will help increase the EIT collections.

"It'll ratchet up more and more each year as non-residents realize that they have to pay it. Some employers weren't doing it right," Heagele said, explaining that the city received $44,000 non-resident EIT payment in September.

The city provided budget numbers through August, which riled Ruggles, who wants to work with more up-to-date figures.

"It scares me," Ruggles said. "If these are the best projected numbers, then I'm losing comfort."

Panto said he favors conservative approach when putting together budget revenue projections. "It's difficult to get the hard numbers up to date. I'd hate to overestimate and make a deficit."

Steckman added that the budget is a "living, breathing document."

"What if we get the winter of winters?" he said. "This is the best, cleanest crystal ball we have. What if Crayola shuts down? We'll use $100,00 in parking."

Heagele said the city is hitting and exceeding its revenue targets in some areas and lagging in others.

For example, parking revenues are down for the year.

"We're not going to hit our targets on parking. Due to the impact of Crayola (being closed) and certain other things not being open, parking is off 10 percent," Heagele said. "It's a basket of revenues and we're fortunate we're not like other municipalities that rely just on real estate taxes."

The Crayola Experience in Easton was closed for 12 weeks from February into April for renovations.

"I don't like to hear that we can revise the parking numbers," Ruggles said. "We shouldn't be doing that. We should be getting the best possible numbers."

Panto acknowledged that putting together a preliminary budget by Oct. 1 is too early.

"We do it every 12 months at the same time each year," Panto said. "These are the numbers we have as of August, whether they are good, off, up or down."

After reviewing the budget, council will hold public hearings later this year.

The proposed budget will hike taxes $100 a year for a family earning $50,000.