Workers, not property owners, will see taxes increase by two-tenths of one percent under the 2014 City of Easton budget proposed by Mayor Sal Panto Jr. Tuesday night.
The proposed tax hike would mean another $100 a year for a family earning $50,000 annually, Panto said. If that same family participates in the city’s recycling program, which rewards participants with a $33 “rebate,” then it would be looking at a $67 increase in city expenses for the year, Panto said.
Compared with where the city was financially several years ago, Panto said Easton’s recovery has been “nothing short of amazing,” and cited increased business tax revenues, gambling revenues from the Sands Casino Resort in Bethlehem and effective management of the city’s finances as the reason why Easton has been able to “stare down any tax or fee increases since 2009.”
Difficult decisions remain down the road this year and in the years ahead, the mayor said. He referred to two potentially hot-button issues: the possible closing of fire stations and swimming pools.
“The tough decisions come when we have to make decisions like ‘Do we keep pools open if no one uses them and our non-user residents subsidize by more than $100,000 per year?’,” Panto said.
Panto also asked: “Do we maintain three firehouses in a four-square mile area?”
“These questions and more will have to be asked again and again in the near future, maybe as early as next year,” Panto said.
Rising health-care costs were the biggest problems in balancing the budget, Panto said.
City Council recently approved the transfer of $1 million from its health-care reserve fund to the current year health-care operating fund. Without providing any details, Panto said the city’s health-care costs have been experiencing “tremendous increases due to some unfortunate situations.”
On a more upbeat note, Panto said 2014 should be a “banner year for development” in the city. He referred to the Silk Mill project, the new City Hall and transportation center, and Lafayette College’s new downtown campus.
After reviewing the mayor’s proposed budget, council will hold public meetings on the 2014 spending plan