Mayor Gabriel J. Campana's news conference about the proposed $21 million budget came in two parts Monday inside City Council chambers.
First, the mayor said he would ask council to approve a budget that does not replace three police positions next year. It also will not replace two vacancies on the Streets and Parks Department - a truck driver and street sweeper operator.
Second, and using more of his time to explain his reasons, he is asking council to look at his plan to restructure the city fire department in 2015, reducing staff by as many as 10 paid firefighters.
He said he would do this by asking council to study the cost-to-benefit ratio and to create an ordinance. A question then would be prepared, calling on voters to consider by referendum whether they would accept the department dropping from 30 to 20, with a chief and an assistant chief on it. The department would be supplemented by on-call individuals who are trained to respond and paid a stipend when they do, Campana said.
"It would save about 2.5 mills of tax a year," he said.
One mill generates about $880,000.
Campana also cautioned council that without the proposed adjustments, the city will face financial peril and is facing $55 million in legacy costs because of the inability to keep paying full benefits, particularly pensions and health care costs.
With the changes, Campana said, taxpayers still face a real estate tax increase of .85 mills, or about $85 more per year for a home assessed at $100,000.
"Let's work together and be civil and productive," Campana said, a reference to council. Two members of council were present - N. Clifford "Skip" Smith and Don Noviello.
"We can't keep kicking the can down the road," Campana said. "We could be open to more grant opportunities."
As for the reduction of police, Campana said he believes the introduction of computer technology, including a new mapping and database system that would help officers by providing information to them while they are in their cars, would bring the department into the 21st century.
Campana said he recently has been given notice by the Williamsport Parking Authority that it will contribute $75,000 toward the budget but added he would ask the authority to hire two additional employees who would collect outside the Central Business District.
Increasing building permit fees also has been estimated to bring another $200,000 into the general fund, he said. Assistant Fire Chief Todd Heckman will be asked to add to his duties and work on codes enforcement, in anticipation of passage of a landlord-tenant registration ordinance. The registration would require landlords and tenants to provide their names and addresses to codes personnel. A solicitor working on that ordinance said previously he did not believe the information could be shared with the public for privacy and security reasons.
Campana said he would ask for an additional employee to work in the treasurer's office to assist by ensuring all of the mercantile, business privilege and local services taxes that are supposed to be collected are.
Furthermore, the city, Campana said, gained revenue after passage of a police towing fee ordinance, which is expected to generate $15,000 annually, and rescue and recovery fees assessed by the fire department.
Meanwhile, the proposed outline of the budget goes to council Wednesday for its review. The full budget, prepared by Joe Pawlak, fiscal and budget officer, will be presented to council by Nov. 15, as required by third-class city code. "Council reviews it and holds 7 p.m. work sessions Nov. 26 and Nov. 28," he said.
This year's budget was $19.3 million, and the proposed one is $1.7 million more.
"That's because of pensions, health care and an unfunded federal mandate to recertify the flood control levee," Campana said.
The first reading of the proposed budget is scheduled for the council meeting starting at 7:30 p.m. Dec. 6. Council has a final reading of the 2013 budget also starting at 7:30 p.m. Dec. 13.