SCRANTON, Pa. -- The new Lackawanna County commissioners held a special meeting Wednesday morning to amend the budget to include a tax hike.
If this budget passes, property owners in Lackawanna County will see a tax hike of about 11 percent. That works out to be about $80 a year for the average homeowner.
The Lackawanna County commissioners already passed a 2020 budget in November. When that happened, we reported that Commissioner Jerry Notarianni said he planned to reopen the budget at the beginning of the new administration.
There are two main factors driving this tax hike. There's not enough money in the county's reserve fund as required by the state and financial institutions for the county to keep its bond rating, and the county's pension plan is underfunded.
"You can't continue to kick the can down the road. You have to address it. We have to move forward from this point and begin to expand the tax base. But people have to believe, in order for us to get more people to come and more businesses to come, they have to believe that the government is acting properly. That has not been the case," said Lackawanna County Commissioner Jerry Notarianni.
"I think it's ridiculous," said Amos Vered. "We're already paying very high taxes. I live in Clarks Summit, I'm paying close to $4,400 a year in taxes."
But county commissioners say it's necessary.
"I wish there were an option. The last thing in the world that I want to do, or anyone wants to do, is to raise taxes," Commissioner Notarianni said.
"But this mindset that we should never raise taxes assumes that costs will never go up. And I don't know what kind of 'la la land' people like that live in," said Scranton taxpayer Joan Hodowanitz.
The commissioners say the financial issues plaguing the county are the result of prior administrations pushing off the problem for years.
"It's sad that we got to this point. But it is what it is, and you have to go forward, and you can't continue to shirk your responsibilities. You have to do the right thing," Notarianni added.
"The last thing I want to do is raise anybody's taxes. Guess what? My taxes go up, too. My family's taxes go up, so you know nobody wants to do that. But sometimes you have to do what you have to do," said minority commissioner Chris Chermak.
Commissioners Chris Chermak and Debi Domenick have only been in office for a little more than a week.
"We're walking into this mess. It's the prior administrations that caused it, and unfortunately, we're the ones that have to fix it," said Commissioner Domenick.
Commissioner Domenick suggested increasing taxes gradually over many years or conducting a countywide audit.
But the commissioners only have a week to make a decision on this version of the 2020 budget.
"I feel like we're under the gun, and I don't think these things should be taken lightly, especially because the residents in the city of Scranton are really going to take the biggest hit," said Commissioner Debi Domenick.
This meeting was just a formality. The vote will come next week.
Two of the three commissioners need to vote in favor of the new budget for it to pass. Commissioner Notarianni said he will. Commissioner Debi Domenick said she's not 100 percent on board, and Commissioner Chris Chermak said he doesn't have enough information to make a decision yet.