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Proposed city budget includes 2.5 mill tax hike

Mayor Derek Slaughter Monday proposed a $29.7 million 2021 budget calling for a tax hike of 2.5 mills.

The proposed spending plan is subjected to adjustment by City Council.

The proposed budget sets the real estate tax rate at 18.22 mills, with 1 mill of real estate tax producing about $880,000.

If the spending plan would be unchecked, the tax increase would mean the average homeowner with a house assessed at $100,000 would pay a $250 tax increase, according to the proposed budget estimate summary.

“We’re going to have to find places to make cuts,” Council President Randall J. Allison said getting his first look at the proposed spending plan by the mayor.

The proposed budgeted reflects increases in property market value offset by about $3 million in real estate assessment appeals.

To better explain the appeals process, Nicholas Grimes, city treasurer and tax collector, was contacted on Monday. Grimes said it was a matter of taxable property taxes increasing, but the city had a decrease due to assessment appeals.

The mayor’s proposed budget shows a year-ending balance of $179,996, if the tax hike is applied. It has a proposed reduction of mercantile and business tax by 25 percent. Additionally, the city faces a minimum municipal pension obligation for its police, fire and officers and employees union of $5 million.

Slaughter said there was no intention to hire additional employees in 2021. He also noted there were not going to be wage increases for at will or non-unionized employees. Most of those hold clerical jobs.

The largest city costs are related to public safety departments, which, in all, are estimated to cost Williamsport taxpayers $19.3 million, for the salaries and benefits of the police and firefighters and codes enforcement department.

The proposed police budget maintains the current complement of 48 officers. The proposed fire department has a complement of 34 personnel and an administrative aide.

The fire department budget proposed would create a COIVD-19 supplies line item for personal protective equipment related to the pandemic.

Allison said it will be a challenging budget and year ahead because of the virus’s toll on business this year.

“That is because of the COVID-19 pandemic closing and slowing down some businesses,” he said.

The proposed budget will be reviewed by City Council at budget work sessions at 7 p.m. Nov. 30 and 7 p.m. Dec. 2.

A first reading of the proposal is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. at council on Dec. 3.

The work sessions are done by remote due to the coronavirus pandemic safety precautions.

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