Monday, March 1, 2010

Easton in the Black

Mayor Panto has balanced the budget for the second year in a row keeping Easton in the black with no tax increase.

Posted by: Noel Jones

Good news! I submit this as exhibit A--no--more like exhibit M--that I give credit where credit is due--whether you love him, hate him, or it depends on the day, Mayor Panto has balanced Easton's budget for the second year in a row without increasing taxes:

Morning Call Article by Michael Duck on Easton Ending Up in the Black

If you would like to post your thanks, or object to this characterization of the mayor as fiscally responsible, post your comments here!

I am no expert when it comes to budgeting, but I have to say that I'm impressed that he has balanced the budget in a down economy when Bethlehem and Allentown cannot say the same. I also appreciate that while the EASD proposes to raise our taxes 11.85%, the mayor is not proposing a tax increase at all. 


noel jones said...

Here is a Valley 610 blog post by Michael Duck on the status of penalties being charged to anyone whose employer did not extract the appropriate amount of 1.25% in income tax from our checks last year. Apparently there are approximately 4,000 residents whose employers continued to charge the previous .5% instead, and now a lot of people owe the rest with interest, but City Council has waived the $20 penalty:

Anonymous said...

I wouldn't call a .75% increase in the EIT not "increasing taxes". It cost me an extra $375 last year. Fortunately, I had a 20% pay cut last year due to the recession, or it would have cost me more lol.

Anonymous said...

The EIT hurts. So do a lot of the other fees we pay like garbage and sewer on top of a high real estate tax. I agree with councilman Warren and need to thank this new form of government which put professionals in charge of the financial end. I also salute Warren who tried to end the health benefits for part time elected and appointed officials. We pay our council people 9,371. Bethlehem payss 7,100 and Allentown pays 6,149 and both Beth and A town don't provide health benefits. We need to see our costs go down. too many people in this town keep wanting to move out. the costs are absurd. I do thank the current mayor for not increasing taxes this year.

Anonymous said...

Let's not forget Northampton County Council members get 7,000 per year with no benefits. I think they work a lot harder.

Anonymous said...

County council works a lot harder? what county do you live in Lehigh? Lehigh County is so far ahead of us its pathetic.

as for Easton, I am truly impressed. I am not afraid to say that I had reservations about Panto. I thought he did a good job his first time around and realy though we should elect someone fresh. Well we did. You can talk about the cahrter change but Panto has put together a really talented staff and with the creation of a City administrator that gives the opportunity to hire a Director of Finance and not a Business Administrator. These are two different skillsets.

I see improvements in all departments and that has to come from the top. Yes, our recylced mayor is a breath of fresh air.

What I particularly like about this time is that he listens more closely to his critics and what they have to say. He actually invites them in and gets them involved in the process.

Two examples-Dennis Leib on the Planning Commission and I forget the firefighters name that used to go to all of the meetings but Panto placed him on the Housing Authority.

And the best part is when I watch the local news on TV i have to say we are doing better than the other three cities the cover (A, B and Reading). Who would have guessed?

Anonymous said...

Agree. He is listening. And sincere.

Anonymous said...

Lehigh county commissioners get a stipend of 7,000 but most only take 5500.

Bethlehem pays real estate taxes at 14.10 mills; Easton pays 24.95

Bethlehem pays sewer at 2.04/ 1000 gallons Easton pays sewer at 6.90/750 gallons

Bethlehem pays 1/2 % eit.

it's about taxes and fees.

Anonymous said...

Here's a clue of why we are where we are:

Recycling performance grants from the state of Pennsylvania for how much your municipality recycles:

Bethlehem 420,328
Whitehall 146,273
East Stroudsburg 157,861
Forks 74,649
Palmer 102,079

Bethlehem is high. And for those who say there are more people living in Bethlehem the other muncipalities are smaller than Easton.

By the way Easton got 20,164. Now, you can ask yourself why do we pay the high taxes that we do.

Sandra Walters Weiss said...

Kudos to Mayor Panto for holding the line so to speak something his predecessors failed to do so he does deserve the credit and he does listen to concerns and make himself accessible.And Jeff Warren has definitely showed some great initiative and should be proud of his work on City Council.So I choose to look at the glass as half full not half empty!

noel jones said...

Interesting discussion...

Anon 12:48, you said "a Director of Finance and not a Business Administrator. These are two different skillsets. " I'd love to know more about the difference if you have a chance--this is not my forte and I suspect other residents might like to know more about the difference as well.

Anon 8:59--Mike Fleck was explaining before about how the millage rate is deceptive, because Easton hasn't had an assessment since 1988, and that if we did, it would bring the millage rate down but not raise our property taxes. What is your take on this? It would be good to know when Bethlehem did there last assessment by comparison.

Sewage and income taxes, however, are another story--what's up with our higher sewage rate? Does anyone know why that is?

Anon 9:15 --I've been hearing about the recycling issue for a year now, and I know that the WWNP and the recycling yard handed out really cheap recycling cans to anyone who would take them. It requires a lot of public education though--backed up by code enforcement. I know that Diane Reynolds is working on this, and has said that this year they will be citing people who do not properly package trash and/or recycling. I think that if people, whether home-owers or landlords, started getting cited, we will see the recycling rate improve.

We need tough code enforcement on solid waste/recycling so we can start to bring in that money for tax relief.

Anonymous said...

The county reassesses all properties at once. So if Easton is reassessed so would Bethlehem be at the same time. Now, Bethlehem is part Lehigh County and part Northampton. The Lehigh part was reassessed in 1991 while the Northampton County part was reassessed in 1995. If Lehigh County were done at the same time as Northampton, the tax rate would be probably be less because the Lehigh portion would be worth more.

Anonymous said...

the old form of gov't had a Business Administrator that handled a lot more than finance -- personnel, technology, insurances, union negotiations, lawsuits, and more. With a city administrator came the opportunity the charter commission felt most important -- a real finance department and without a part time treasurer. (who is still getting paid unfortunately for abnother 2 years). Now the person hired must possess a finance background and not necessarily a general manangement experience.
The City Admin. oversees all of the directors giving the Finance Director the time needed to concentrate on the finances and only the finances.

Panto to his credit waited to fill the positions with the right people. Some criticized him for waiting 4 months to hire a finance director and a full year to hire a city administrator, even claiming that he wanted to be the CA. We now have a really talented staff in place and the proof is in the pudding. We also have a city council that truly works with the administration and not against it.

Heck, we may on the right path finally.

Anonymous said...

There's an article published in the Morning Call

and it explains the differences in water rate and sewer rate charges. Since the water operations were transferred to ESWA there only exists differences in the sewer rates.

According to the article Easton charges 6.90 per 750 gallons for sewer treatment while Forks charges 3.60 and Palmer charges 3.85.

According to Humphrey the
business administrator, said the city, with 27 percent of its properties tax exempt, treats sewer and water revenues
as it would other revenue sources like parking meters or building permit fees. Apparently suburban communities only use sewer funds to meet sewer expenses.

It was one of those gimmicks that was used to balance a budget and was used again and again to balance and finally got way out of hand.

noel jones said...

Anon 8:41--thanks for the article, but i'm even more confused now--did i read it right that Palmer and Forks pay less because they've grown so much and the price per customer goes down as more customers join the overall bill for that municipality? not sure i got that was a very long and complicated article for someone who doesn't know a lot about billing structures for municipal water and sewer...

Anonymous said...

You can infer that from the article, but I think that the writer avoided why Easton rates are so high. Easton intentionally raised its rates to avoid real estate tax increases. We were told that the higher rates were beneficial because they apply to non profits when real estate taxes don't. No one has ever proved that; it's one of those urban myths. I tend to think that a user charge redistributes the charge to lower income people. Case in point-Two working adults share a large, highly valued home. The sewer charge increase is meaningless; they use no water during the work day and little when they are home. A family of five live in a small, low valued home. The wife stays at home to raise three small children. They have substantial water use during the day (laundry, etc) and substantial at night. Tax increases would hit the larger home first. But, sewer charges hit the smaller home first.

noel jones said...

Anon 2:18--thanks for that, that's an interesting point. So, I guess the idea, in a nutshell, is that raising sewer prices is just another tax--and a tax on low-moderate income families at that.

What can be done about this?

Anonymous said...

I recall the years when water and sewer rates were being raised and the argumment was a sound one since the argument actually SAVED residents money -- believe it or not. Here's the rationale givenm and I agree.

Easton is land-locked and has almost 50% non-taxable properties. they pay no real estate taxes but they do pay for water and sewer.

Guess who the largest users of water and sewer are? Yep the county and the college.

Therefore, now follow me on this, if the city had a $300,000 shortfall that had to be met they would have the choice of raising real estate taxes $300,000 or 1 mil and the county and college pay nothing or they could raise water and sewer rates half that amount because the $300,000 shortfall would be paid by everyone, including the county and the college.

It makes sense but it is hard to swallow, but I understand the justification.

Anonymous said...

Anon 10:48 you make a good point but I understand what the earlier post was saying when the person talked about schools, churches, prisons, etc. Fortunately, we in Easton are not faced with any increases this year ---- oh yeah, the city can control costs but there is that thing called the school district with it's 12% increase.

Anonymous said...

Sal Panto says to Anon 12:22 AM

Yes unfortunately the earned income tax was raised last year to help us deal with the $4 million deficit we inherited. The earned income is placed on the working members of our community and not the unemployed or seniors on social security. Butr through effective financial oversight and effective contract negotiations with two of our three unions we were able to balance this years budget without a tax or fee increase. we continue to make financial stability our goal, not just this year but every year. As a taxpayer I know what burden is placeed on our residents and will continue to make Easton as cost-effective as possible.

noel jones said...

Great discussion, everyone--I learned a lot on this one. Mayor Panto, thanks for posting.