Sitting City Council members and those seeking seats this year were asked if they would or would not raise real estate taxes to pay for more city police officers.
Council Vice President Bill Hall said he preferred the 2011 budget complement of 52 police and viewed the insurgence of natural gas companies as potentially being tapped as revenue sources.
"I would urge gas companies to recognize they have to register to pay mercantile tax in the city and explore a non-resident tax," he said.
Councilman Jonathan Williamson said he wouldn't want to vote to raise real estate taxes without first knowing the budget situation.
"I think that is hard to know without knowing what is going on," Williamson said. "You never want to raise taxes, but public safety is one of the biggest priorities we have in the city. The budget has to be looked at by council and discussed with the administration before I can give you a proper answer about that."
Councilman Randall J. Allison was opposed to raising taxes to pay for additional police.
"I wouldn't be in favor of raising taxes for more police, especially in light of the fact we budgeted for 52 and need to fill that first before we even look at hiring any more police," Allison said.
Councilwoman Liz Miele mirrored Allison's views on the matter.
"I think that for the time being the city needs to focus on hiring officers to fill the existing vacant positions on the police force," she said.
"At present, the city is down to a complement of 46 officers with promises to fill those vacancies next month," Miele said. "Only then can the city evaluate, when it has a fully staffed force, what the future needs may be."
Miele also said the police department complement of 52 remains in proportion with staffing in other cities and towns facing the same challenges.
"Clearly, in this period of crisis for many municipalities throughout the state and country, Williamsport should be looking to maximize our existing resources before creating new costs - and potential new debt - for our city and our taxpayers," Miele said.
Councilwoman Gerry Fausnaught said she would not vote to raise taxes unless there was a public safety crisis.
"The only time I would consider raising taxes is if there was a public safety concern," she said. "We need a public safety audit, a non-biased look at our public safety departments. Every good system of government reviews and evaluates."
Councilman N. Clifford "Skip" Smith, who said he would raise taxes to hire additional police, said he believed it would be a matter that would have to be reviewed with the police administration to determine a proper level of staffing.
"I would have to answer 'Yes,'" Smith said. "I have spoken with Neighborhood Watch groups along with the police chief. I posted that question to them. Every time I ask that, the answer is overwhelmingly, 'Yes.'"
Republican council candidate Bonnie Katz sees no reason to vote to raise real estate taxes to pay for additional police.
"I don't want to raise taxes," Katz said. Still, Katz said she believes the city needs more officers.
"We need more police officers and there are other ways of funding them," she said. "Let's look toward mercantile tax collection of new businesses and hotels. You are looking at several thousand dollars a year in mercantile tax with Kohl's and the Marriott Hotel and other hotels alone. Everyone goes first for property taxes and does not look at other areas that come into play to add revenue other than putting the burden on taxpaying citizens."
Republican candidate Don Noviello said he believes more police are needed but raising taxes should be the last resort.
"I think taxpayers might be more understanding about an increase in property tax rates for enhancement of public safety," he said.
Democrat council candidate Rebecca Brocious does not support the idea of raising taxes. "I don't believe property taxes would have to be raised with the economic developments available and increased tax base," she said.
Democrat council candidate Scott Rudinski was adamant about not increasing the tax rate.
"I am absolutely against any property tax increase," he said. "I am a firm believer we have an influx in gas companies and they aren't paying taxes to be utilized to support budgets for police and fire services."
Council President J. Marlyne Whaley declined to comment on how she will vote as she sees out her final term and casts her final votes to adopt a city budget for 2012.
"I don't have to answer that," Whaley said. "I won't be running."