Tuesday, October 2, 2012

No Tax Increases in Proposed 2013 Easton Budget; Some User Fee Hikes Expected

By Christina Georgiou
Easton Mayor Sal Panto left the dais Monday evening
to present his administration's proposal for the 2013 city budget.
Click on any photo or image for a closer look.

Easton's budget proposal for 2013 calls for no property tax increases, though some increases in user fees are being suggested, the most obvious of which are a $2 monthly billing fee residents, excluding seniors, will see on their sewer and trash bills and a hike in the metered parking rate from 50c to 75c an hour.

The Earned Income Tax (EIT) rate will also rise for non-residents who work in the City of Easton beginning in January, but the $1.35 million that is estimated to be raised from that move, passed by city council in August, is earmarked to help the city pay for ballooning pension costs.

“We are obligated to spend more than $3.5 million on pension legacy costs next year,” Mayor Sal Panto told members of city council during his presentation of the proposed 2013 budget Monday evening. “That's an increase of more than $1.8 million just for next year and more than $2.4 million, or 8 mils of taxes, since 2008. Our financial challenges are real.”

The overall proposed budget totals about $31.17 million, up an average of 3.5 percent a year for the last five years or since Panto took office. Five years ago the overall figure was $25.64 million. The increase is about the same as the average rise in inflation, Panto noted.

Notable items, both in revenue and expenditures, in the proposal include:
  • a $10,000 expenditure increase for the Mayor's Office of Special Events
  • a $50,000 estimated increase in revenue generated by the city's admissions tax, attributed to an anticipated increase in Crayola Experience visitors due to their upcoming expansion
  • an increase of $470,000 in revenue generated by the city's EIT, not related to the non-resident “commuter tax, attributed to better county collections and disbursements
  • Sands Casino revenue is expected to increase by $140,000 or 25 percent in 2013, for a total of an anticipated $700,000
  • an increase of $225,000 in parking meter fees and and increase of $75,000 in parking fines, attributed to the possibility of raising street and city-owned parking lot fees from 50c to 75c an hour, along with adding operating hours on Sundays from 1 to 5 p.m.
  • an expenditure to create a new police department position—a Parking Enforcement Officer Supervisor, “to enhance fair and consistent enforcement of parking regulation”
  • a reduction in police overtime expenses of $75,000, cited as being attributable to the EPD having a full complement of officers
  • a reduction of $30,000 in fire department overtime expenses, also attributed to the EFD having a full complement of fire fighters
  • an unspecified number of planning and code fee increases to raise department revenue by an unspecified amount, with a note that these will be discussed at an upcoming scheduled budget hearing
  • an unspecified rise in expenses to cover payments associated with the Simon Silk Mill and Intermodal complex development projects
  • the creation of a new position in the city's economic development department, along with the elimination of a part-time executive assistant in the same department
  • a $355,000 contribution to the Greater Easton Development Partnership (GEDP) to help fund their $625,000 annual budget that pays for the city programs they oversee—the Easton Main Street Initiative, the Ambassadors program and the Easton Farmers' Market
  • $100,000 to McDonalds as the second payment on a $300,000 agreement the city entered into to buy out their lease in the Two Rivers Landing building, which made way for the Crayola expansion.
  • A $20,000 payment to Crayola to cover HVAC improvement expenses not made by the Two Rivers Landing Partnership
While some city revenue streams will increase, overall, expenses have risen at a faster rate, Panto said, but despite this, the city budget proposal manages to absorb the costs without raising tax rates by changing strategy.

“We are on the path of continuous improvement,” the mayor said. “Easton will not be part of America's (municipal economic) failures...The city has changed how it does business.”

An electronic copy of the full budget proposal will be posted to the City of Easton website for public inspection, with a link to the document on the home page, by Wednesday at the latest, said City Administrator Glenn Steckman.

Upcoming budget hearings will be scheduled for Tuesday, October 13 and Tuesday, October 30, with additional hearings possible on Tuesday, November 13 and Tuesday, November 27, though if city council agreement is reached, a final budget proposal could be introduced as early as Wednesday, November 14 and voted on at the next city council meeting on Wednesday, November 28. All hearings and meetings will take place at 6 p.m. in city council chambers on the sixth floor of City Hall, 1 South Third St.

By law, the city must pass a budget by December 15 at the latest.

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