Hazleton Mayor, Council at Odds on Tax Increase Amount

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HAZLETON, LUZERNE COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU-TV) — There is a debate taking place in Hazleton over the proposed city budget.

The mayor and city council are at odds over the final spending plan for 2020. The central issue is a property tax hike. Taxpayers are caught in the middle. Mayor Jeff Cusat insists that a five percent increase in necessary to keep the city running, but council argues that number can be cut in half.

“It just gets to be too expensive. You need to have to put the people first,” Pat Smith, owner of Pat’s on the Heights, said.

That’s the message Smith wants council and the mayor to hear. She owns a restaurant in the Heights section of the city and says her customers have been talking about the city budget.

“When you talk about the budget everything is just way to expensive anymore Andy they need to cut back. They need to cut back, to cut back,” Smith said.

Mayor Jeff Cusat has proposed a $13 million budget for 2020. It includes a five percent property tax hike. He says the tax increase is needed to keep the city running. Council, which must approve that budget, had made major changes. Its’ budget would slash the tax increase in half.

“You know you feel bad for the poor taxpayer,” councilman Tony Colombo said. “We are looking at a few different aspects so we can generate revenue that we can tweak it a bit and bring it down from five percent to two and a half percent.

Those revenues would come from expected increases in things like parking violations and aggressive collection fees. But Cusat says council is working with fantasy numbers. That simply won’t work.

“I’m not really convinced that they are very accurate with numbers. It’s bad financial advice to be able to guess and overestimate revenue sources,” Cusat said.

Cusat says if council does not pass his budget, then the city will be forced to raise taxes in a much bigger way in 2021. A final budget has to be approved by December 31st.

The incoming city council can reopen and rework the budget in January.

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