Mayor Gabriel J. Campana - decrying the city's present and future financial condition - called out union leaders Wednesday, claiming city taxpayers face a real estate tax increase next year because of their lack of concessions on pensions and health care contributions.
He also claimed there has been a lack of effort by state legislators to reform pension and arbitration law.
"I believe the leadership in Harrisburg is afraid of the unions," Campana said. "There is responsible legislation that many of us mayors have been saying for years is available to help cities, but the legislators don't want to upset the unions."
City taxpayers face a 0.85-mill real estate tax increase next year, Campana said at the start of a meeting with department heads about their budgets.
The proposed millage would mean homeowners with a property assessed at $100,000 would pay another $85 per year in real estate tax, according to the city finance office.
Reached immediately after Campana's statements, state Reps. Rick Mirabito, D-Williamsport, and Garth Everett, R-Muncy, said they are working to help third-class cities, but pension reform isn't a simple issue because it is a contractual obligation. Attempts to reach State Sen. E. Eugene Yaw, R-Loyalsock Township, were not successful.
Mirabito and Everett each said the difficulty in reform lies in binding agreements with the city.
"He's (Campana) dealing with unions that won't agree to any changes in pensions," Everett said. "If he wants us to pass a law that requires them to do that it may be difficult because the folks vested in their pensions can't have them changed ... We can't arbitrarily change a law saying, 'Your pension is gone' - that's a contractual obligation."
"We need to look at the alternative ways for cities to raise revenue other than property taxes," Mirabito said, describing the potential to tap into $1 million raised by assessing a room tax paid by visitors to hotels. The money goes to the Lycoming County Visitor's Bureau and about $500,000 is expected this year from that tax, Mirabito said.
"We need to re-examine where the money is going and perhaps contact the state Department of Community and Economic Development to see if we can get some of that money to help us," Mirabito said.
After all, he added, police officers, firefighters and street cleaners help out hotels and tourists with their efforts.
"I don't know if that requires legislation or an opinion letter to the department, but we have that obligation to the taxpayers," he said, noting the city used to operate tourism with $250,000.
Mirabito said finding alternative revenue for cities facing dire straits can help during budget season.
"We have money and we need to see where in the law it is possible to use it so people aren't just hit by tax increases," he said, promising he would review any bills forwarded to the Legislature by the Pennsylvania League of Cities.
Everett said another impediment is legislators can't force union members to give up their pensions and make them accept something less expensive.
"That's an issue for bargaining with unions," he said.
Everett, meanwhile, said he and other Republicans tried to address pension reform at the last session of the state House, but he claimed his political party didn't get much help from the other side of the aisle.
"We wanted to start to make it mandatory that unions make concessions. It's an issue we will have to deal with, but I don't know if it will happen in time before the budget next year," he said, adding he sympathizes with the city's financial struggles.
Altogether, Campana is proposing $20.4 million for the various departments, a 10.9-percent increase - more than $2 million - from this year's budget, according to Joe Pawlak, city finance and budget officer. The 2012 department budget was $18.4 million.
The projected 2013 breakdown of department expenditures, from highest to lowest, is:
Bureau of Police, $7.7 million
Bureau of Fire, $6.2 million
Streets and parks, $3.5 million
Finance and personnel, $767,550
Bureau of Codes, $656,887
City council, $374,850
Mayor's office, $372,185
Public safety (for rent, maintenance and fuel costs of police department office space), $255,943
Tax collector, $176,903
City clerk, $75,347
Bureau of law, $63,684
Campana's statements on unions were made at the start of a meeting with department heads at which proposed expenses for next year were enumerated.
Department heads representing fire, codes, finance, recreation and Streets and Parks departments were present, but none spoke during the meeting. All declined comment after it.