Lackawanna County 2020 budget up for debate again

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SCRANTON, LACKAWANNA COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU) — Lackawanna County’s 2020 budget is back on the table. This time it comes with a tax increase.

The new commissioners held a special meeting Wednesday to amend this year’s budget. This is completely a 180 from what the former board approved in November with no tax increase. Now commissioners are amending the budget to include an 11 percent tax increase.

The new Lackawanna County Commissioners held their first special meeting as a new board. The purpose? Add a tax increase to the 2020 budget.

“I’m not looking forward to this. We can do it now or it’s going to get progressively worse,” Commissioner Jerry Notarianni said.

Notarianni has been outspoken about reopening this year’s budget after his former commissioners approved it in November. Commissioners Debi Domenick and Chris Chermak, both new to the seat, are onboard for now.

If amended in one week, property owners could see about an $84 tax increase a year. That’s based on an average assessed property value of $13,000.

The decision for an increase comes as the county’s savings account is getting low to meet state and financial institution guidelines which can result in a change to its bond ratings. Second, is not funding its pension benefits 100 percent since 2005, now at $3.8 million.

“We just keep getting deeper and deeper in the hole and for Commissioner Chermak and I, we’re walking into this mess. It’s the prior administrations that caused it,” Domenick said.

“They’ve kicked the can down the road pretty darn far and they would continue to kick it down the road. Can’t do that, so we need to take a serious look at this,” Chermak said.

Domenick says she wants an audit done to see where the county can save before putting it on taxpayers. Chermak agrees, saying finding another option in the next seven days will be tough.

“We need to take a serious look at this and get the county back on track,” Chermak said.

“See if we can do something to potentially at least try to reduce the amount of tax increase that they want,” Domenick said.

Notarianni says the tax increase must happen now to help the county in the future.

“You can’t continue to spend your surplus. You can’t continue to not fund your pension. There are prices to be paid for all of that kind of behavior,” Notarianni said.

Now, just like the budget approved in November, the county will face a $6 million deficit. That will be paid by the county’s “fund balance” to pass a balanced budget.

The board of commissioners will have exactly one week to either approve or deny the amended budget. They’re expected to do that next Wednesday at 10 a.m.

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