City Council reluctantly raised taxes by 1 mill Thursday night and adopted a $21.1 million budget.
Council members said that those who are upset by the increased costs and three fewer police officers and one less Streets and Parks employee should tell their representatives in Harrisburg and Washington, D.C.
The tax increase means that people who own a house with an assessed value of $100,000 will pay $100 more per year in property taxes, according to Mayor Gabriel J. Campana. The tax rate was fixed at 11.58 mills.
CRAIG S. McKIBBEN JR./Sun-Gazette
William C. Wright, general manager of streets and parks for the City of Williamsport, answers a question posed to him by a member of council during the second and final reading of the city budget Thursday evening.
The budget reduces the police department by three officers and the Streets and Parks by one employee.
Council had planned at the first reading of the budget to eliminate two Streets and Parks positions but, through suggestion and discussion amongst themselves, found a way to pay for reinstating a truck driver position for $55,000 with salary and benefits.
It did this in a "revenue-neutral" way by reducing the department's equipment budget by $30,000 when William C. Wright, department general manager, agreed to delay the purchase of a truck by a year. The $30,000 was put back into the salary line item, while $25,000 was taken from contractual services used by River Valley Transit.
William E. Nichols Jr., city finance director and general manager of RVT, said that could be done for one year but expressed caution about the year ahead, especially regarding unknown figures such as federal tax adjustments facing the nation in the so-called "fiscal cliff."
Councilman Randall J. Allison said council was constrained because much of the planned spending was beyond its control.
"This budget presents a hardship to many citizens," he said.
Health care, for example, rose by 11 percent for the employees, costing nearly $500,000 more next year, while the obligation to fund pensions rose by $1.7 million.
Insurance costs, including property, liability and workers' compensation, rose by 17 percent, much of it caused by U.S. insurance companies sustaining a year of many catastrophic events, such as Hurricane Sandy in October.
Allison said city government can't continue to ask taxpayers to foot the bill. He warned that difficult decisions lie in the weeks and months ahead, such as whether the city can afford to open the East End Pool.
Allison said citizens need to interact with council and the administration.
Councilman N. Clifford "Skip" Smith said many of the funds can't be used to repair streets or purchase fire trucks.
"Harrisburg (determines) what the money can be used for," he said. "We're trying to do the best for you folks in a difficult atmosphere."
Councilman Jonathan Williamson said he believed the budget struck a balance that each year continues to be more difficult to achieve.
"You either raise revenue with taxes or cut back on services," he said. "The vast majority of the budget we can't have meaningful control over."
Councilwoman Liz Miele said she appreciated the hardwork and cooperation in the budget process and was pleasantly surprised, speaking to constituents, as many expressed how they, too, appreciated the thought council puts into the budget and considered the hardships many people face.
"It made an impact on the perception people have of our management," she said.
"We're burdened by the fact the reality and truth before us is - the numbers speak for themselves," said Councilman Don Noviello.
He said the seven council members are not enough of a force to change Harrisburg. Such change only can come if people try to change the attitudes of those representing them in the state and federal governments, he said.
"Otherwise," Noviello added, "we're bound to go through this year after year."
He also thanked his colleagues on the table, the administration and Mayor Gabriel J. Campana, who did not attend the meeting, and many in the public who choose to be a part of the solution and not point fingers or spread derogatory comments.
Noviello said he appreciated the leadership of Dr. Anthony Cipolla and the Williamsport Parking Authority, which agreed to contribute $75,000 toward the city general fund budget, claiming the decision would help to alleviate the stress on heavily overburdened taxpayers.
Councilwoman Bonnie Katz echoed the statements and urged the public to get more involved.
"It's up to the public to put pressure on Harrisburg and Washington," she said.