LOCK HAVEN – Faced with a low remaining general fund balance by the end of 2022, Lock Haven City Council would like to explore the city’s options further.
The council asked city manager Gregory Wilson to put together information and numbers to show what the city’s proposed 2022 budget would look like if it included a tax increase.
Councilor Richard Morris kicked off the discussion at the Monday night council meeting when he asked about the property tax information proposed in the proposed budget. Council provisionally approved the budget at its November 1 meeting, with final adoption scheduled for December 6. The proposed budget approved at the time did not include a tax increase, but only around $ 27,000 would remain at the end of 2022-2023.
Morris has expressed concern that the city could be put in a corner by 2023 given the city’s proposed financial situation by the end of next year. If this becomes the case, the city council could be forced to order a larger tax increase.
Although Wilson’s speech to the public at the November 1 meeting said he was following the wishes of the board majority by not including a tax increase, Morris said he was not in of this group.
“If we don’t do that this year – and we take money out of another pocket and put it in the general fund, then take it out – you’re just prolonging the agony.” “ he said. “My concern is that when we hit a wall… we will raise taxes more than we would otherwise and the shock to taxpayers would be greater. “
Morris added that if the majority of the council still did not want a tax increase, he would not challenge the decision. “But I think it would be appropriate to have this discussion because it really is in the long term best interest of taxpayers.”
Several board members agreed with Morris’s assessment, with many noting that they wouldn’t necessarily raise taxes in 2022. They would just like to consider options.
Mayor Joel Long highlighted the infrastructure repair needs across the city.
“At the end of the year, we will have $ 27,000 in a budget the size of ours”, he said. “It’s really thin, it’s scary. We have a snowstorm like last December, let’s go.
Wilson explained that, without a tax increase, some funds from Fund 16 (Investment Projects) should be transferred to the General Fund to balance the budget. Capital projects are typically planned over a six-year period, with some projects often being postponed from year to year, Wilson said.
“We’ve talked a lot about how our infrastructure is aging and struggling. And that’s partly because over the years, as a municipal councilor for 10 years, we keep kicking the road to know when we’re going to fix this, or when we’re going to fix it, ” Long said.
“It doesn’t cost less. It won’t be cheaper in four years ”, He continued. “We can’t keep kicking this because it’s going to keep getting more expensive. So even if we save money by not doing it now, it will cost more when we finally decide to do it.
The city hasn’t raised taxes since 2015. Wilson told council how the city has managed to avoid the increase for six years now.
“This calculation in 2015 was made so that taxes did not have to be increased for three years”, Wilson said.
The reason taxes were not increased after the third year, 2018, was downsizing.
“My predecessor in 2017 had a deputy managing director, a permanent engineer and a financial director. I have me, Wilson said.
Over the past four years, the city has managed to avoid tax increases by cutting staff such as those listed by Wilson. “Instead, I do the work of a lot of these people”, he said.
“You saved money by eliminating staff in order to balance the budget because this money evaporated in 2018” Wilson continued. “And if taxes aren’t raised, and I’m sorry to be blunt… you have to indicate who is no longer going to work here or what service will not be provided.”
Wilson said if a tax hike doesn’t take place in 2022 or soon after, the city could find itself in a difficult position.
“I can’t think of another person to leave because I can’t do someone else’s job” he said.
Councilor Alex Di Costanzo agreed with Morris and Long in their assessment.
“I agree, I think it needs to happen more regularly and not do such a big blow all at once”, he said.
City Councilor Barbara Masorti noted that an increase in taxes is inevitable.
“I think it’s not about whether we raise taxes, it’s when we raise taxes and by how much” she said.
Masorti also suggested that the council consider smaller, more regular tax increases to ease the burden on landowners.
“There is no doubt that next year will be a difficult year for everyone. And the city is not alone in what we are going to face. So if we have to raise taxes this year and everyone thinks that’s what we need to do, then we really need to think about what we need to do this year, ” said Massorti. “We know we need to raise taxes. We know that if it doesn’t happen this year, it has to happen next year and it could be worse. “
City Councilor Steve Stevenson said he was surprised that a tax hike had not been considered for 2022.
“I agree not to increase the taxes of our landowners and our businesses this year to pass them this year”, Stevenson said. “If we can get away with it, I’m okay with that. But if you want to put together some type of package, I would like to review it.
Councilor Rick Conklin also agreed to explore other options. He also asked, if possible, to see what the projected numbers might look like up to three years from 2022.
“Find out where we need to be in three years and how we can get there” he said. “I don’t want to see us wait another year and then rack up a raise of five percent or more for people who don’t expect it. And who knows what next year will bring.
City Councilor Doug Byerly also told Wilson he would be interested in the updated numbers as well.
Wilson told the council he would put together information and numbers for their review. The projections will be presented at the next council meeting on Monday, November 22.
“This does not in any way mean that the council is considering raising taxes. “ he added.