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Public Gets Chance To Address Proposed 2017 County Budget

November 1, 2016 GMT

WILKES-BARRE — The tax-paying public has a chance to address the proposed 2017 Luzerne County budget at a hearing today.

The budget hearing, which begins at 6 p.m. in the council meeting room in the courthouse, is the first of two scheduled hearings on the proposed budget. A second hearing is scheduled for Dec. 6.

Anyone can comment at any council meeting, but today’s hearing is devoted exclusively to public comment.

The proposed 2017 budget includes a 4 percent property tax increase, raising the millage rate from 5.7456 mills to 5.9754 mills.

A mill is a $1 tax on every $1,000 of assessed property. Under the new rate, a property assessed at $100,000 would pay approximately $598 per year, or about $23 more than the previous tax rate.

The proposal also includes a $5 vehicle registration fee, which would help pay for the costs of maintaining county roads and bridges.

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In 2015, county government budgeted $1.7 million from the general fund to cover road maintenance. County management estimated the fee could bring in just over $1 million in 2017. The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation thinks a $5 fee could bring in $1.4 million per year.

The budget does not reinstate the homestead tax exemption, which eliminated property taxes for the first $10,000 of assessed value for a primary residence. In 2014, it was worth $57 per home.

Council voted in 2014 to repeal the exemption for three years. Some council members wanted to reintroduce the exemption, but with more than $320 million of principal debt the county was not in a position to give out a tax break, said County Manager David Pedri at the Oct. 11 meeting when he presented his proposal to council.

The financial plan for next year moves the county closer toward paying off a principal debt of $320 million and achieving the financial stability that will allow it to achieve an investment-grade credit rating. It adds 18 more employees to the county workforce.

Division proposals

Ahead of the deadline for amending the manager’s budget proposal, county council hears from each division head and goes over each line of their budget requests. Council has heard from the controller, district attorney, and chief public defender.

Today, after the budget hearing, council will hear from the leaders of the courts and budget and finance divisions, and the solicitor.

Council has until Dec. 15 to alter the financial plan. If they don’t make changes by that date the budget goes into effect as proposed.

bwellock@citizensvoice.com

570-821-2051, @CVBillW

If you go:

WHAT: Luzerne County budget hearing on proposed 2017 budget, immediately followed by budget work session

WHEN: 6 p.m. today

WHERE: Luzerne County Courthouse, 200 N. River St., Wilkes-Barre