Williamsport Mayor Gabriel J. Campana said he will explore all options to help the city meet rising expenses caused by increasing pension and health care costs, including a 2-mill tax hike, layoffs and outsourcing of services.
The mayor used a news conference in his office Monday to point out what he thinks is the seriousness of the city's fiscal picture.
He made it clear that the city's five unions must be willing to come through with concessions to help bring about a balanced budget next year.
Mayor Gabriel J. Campana discusses some of the hardships
facing the city for its 2013 budget at a press conference in his office Monday.
"The City of Williamsport is a business," he said.
Campana, a former school teacher and union member, insisted he likes unions and appreciates city employees.
But he explained the days are coming to an end when those workers can enjoy the benefits paid for by taxpayers.
"These generous benefits can't continue," he said.
Campana noted that health care expenses alone are rising several hundred thousand dollars next year, he noted.
The city reportedly faces an increase of $1.7 million to meet its minimum pension obligation.
The fire and police departments, the mayor said, comprise 68 percent of all city expenses.
But it's the high costs for health care and pension benefits of those departments that simply cannot continue.
A retired police officer, he said, can continue to draw a yearly income of around $50,000, which represents half of his annual earnings including overtime costs while on active duty.
Overall, city police officers and firefighters earn the sort of health care benefits most people in the private sector can only dream of, he said.
For example, firefighters pay no deductibles and $5 co-pays on physician visits, while police officers face $500 deductibles and $5 co-pays.
"I believe all city employees should contribute to health insurance," he said.
Campana said he has tried without success the past few years to reach out to the unions in hopes of negotiating some concessions.
He said mayors of many cities around the nation are faced with the same problem as Williamsport.
"If something doesn't change in 2013, it won't be kind to the taxpayers," he said.
At one point, Campana said a 2-mill tax hike to 12.5 mills would not be out of the question.
And while he conceded the city's revenues are increasing, they are simply failing to keep pace with expenses.
Cutting services is yet another option, and the mayor said he will go over next year's budget line item by line item.
Asked if he'd consider slashing any police positions, he said, "There won't be any cuts to the police department. Any other department, I have no comment."
The mayor said he is very much for public safety.
Without being specific, he said yet another option would be to outsource services.
"Outsourcing is a way of saving costs but delivering the same type of services," he said by way of explanation.
The mayor said he wants to hear from the business community and from taxpayers.
He vowed the city will not become financially distressed under an Act 47 designation.
Under Act 47, the state provides for restructuring of a city's debt, limits its ability to obtain government funding and authorizes actions for relieving financial distress.