A compromise on a controversial new user tax for garbage pickup in the City of Lackawanna paved the way Monday night for Council approval of a $26,250,871 budget for 2014-2015.
The compromise was agreed upon after a three-day summit among Mayor Geoffrey Szymanski, Council President Henry Pirowski, Third Ward Councilman Joseph Jerge and officials including City Attorney Antonio Salvagio and City Comptroller Peggy Bigaj Sobol
It resulted in the imposition of a $155 user fee, $100 less than the fee proposed by Szymanski.
“We got a lot done in three days,” Szymanski said. “We had an incredibly cordial three days of talks. It was something that never happened before, but it worked out well.”
All along, Pirowski had called Szymanski’s proposed $255 user fee “not acceptable.”
“To make a tax that dramatic was not fair to the many residents of Lackawanna who are on fixed incomes,” Pirowski said. “Some 20 percent of our population is over the age of 65.”
In reaching the compromise on the user fee for garbage pickup, the Council instituted a sunset clause that would require future Councils to vote each year on the user fee.
“I was against having a permanent tax,” explained Piworski. “This way, every year we will have to vote on it. It was instrumental to implement a sunset clause. It’s a way of holding the city’s feet to the fire to lower overall taxing.”
The implementation of the $155 fee for garbage removal will result in four layoffs from three city service departments: two from police, one from fire and one from sanitation, said Pirowski.
Szymanski described the two cuts from police as academy graduates who just finished their coursework one week ago.
In accordance with Lackawanna’s two-tiered tax rate system, the newly approved budget called for a 20 percent shift from commercial to residential, with property taxes increasing for homeowners 9 percent to $1.36 per $1,000 of assessed valuation. Commercial property owners, meanwhile, face a hike of $4.33 per $1,000.
Pirowski stated that the move is critical to the future of the Steel City’s new business development.
“If we keep on going down the road we’re on, we will not have business. We’re basically holding the fort until we get into a better place financially. So we can talk about increasing fees to increase revenues for the future, but having a tax shift to the homestead is one of the keys to increase new business but cannot be accomplished overnight.”
While the three-day “summit” went smoothly, Szymanski said his three weeks of deliberations over who would get pink-slipped was less than tranquil, calling them the “worst three weeks of my life.”
Fourth Ward Councilman Keith Lewis voted against the user fee and the budget.