Wilkes-Barre City in budget battle as possibility of tax hike considered

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WILKES-BARRE, LUZERNE COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU-TV) — A budget battle is underway in the city of Wilkes-Barre and the end result could be the layoff of city employees and cutback in city services.

The mayor is at odds with some members of the City Council and caught in the middle are city residents. Mayor George Brown says the COVID-19 pandemic has devastated city revenues. The major sticking point in this budget battle are fees for recycling and sewer services.

“So basically I’m looking at where do I do the cuts. What services do we cut back on,” Mayor Brown said.

Mayor Brown says there is a $4 million budget shortfall and says increasing fees about $70 a year for recycling and sewage fees would help keep the city operating at 100 percent.

“The only other choice I have right now is got implement a layoff, something I did not want to do. But when you have to reduce devices I don’t have extra people in these departments,” Mayor Brown said.

Three of the five council members do not want to raise fees and argue the revenues can be made up by cutting costs elsewhere in the city.

Council Chairman Bill Barrett supports the Mayor’s plan to increase fees.

“I’m concerned about the safety of our city, the safety of our residents, our staff. If we do lose positions and the mayor is alluding to numerous positions right now, we are not in a position to do they . We are in the middle of a pandemic and need all the help we can get,” Barrett said.

Phyliss Monda owns property in the city and is watching this budget showdown closely.

“I think there are plenty of ways the city can make money. There’s grants a lot .. listen to council.. millions of ideas coming through instead of shy property tax increase,” Monda said.

The mayor had offered up an option of a property tax increase but council agreed that is not the way to go. So unless an agreement is reached on recycling and sewage fees, the mayor says layoffs will be made.

If a budget agreement is not reached by December 31st, the city’s 2020 budget would remain in effect. It would be underfunded and layoffs would almost be a certainty.

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