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Hazleton proposal to up property, income levies

HAZLETON – After an initial 3-2 vote against Mayor Lou Barletta’s 2010 budget proposal, a threat from Barletta to shut down the city on Jan. 1, some arguing and then a compromise, council amended the budget and passed it with a 4-1 vote on first reading.

The proposal still calls for a 70-percent hike in real estate taxes and an 18-percent increase in earned income tax, but a $38 increase in the garbage collection fee was eliminated.

Councilmen Tom Gabos, Jack Mundie and Bob Nilles initially voted against the budget ordinance, while Joe Yannuzzi and Evelyn Graham voted for it. The vote was the same on the garbage fee ordinance.

Barletta criticized the three councilmen who voted against the ordinance, saying they “blindsided” him and were “throwing snowballs” by failing to offer any suggestions for changing the budget in a way that it still would be balanced.

“We’ve had many budget meetings where council had an opportunity to make their suggestions to the budget, let the administration know whether or not they had any objections that would hold the budget process up. Quite frankly, I was very disappointed that council would have taken the position to let the city shut down at the end of the year after the process the administration has gone through with council,” he said.

“I think we’re fortunate I was able to convince council to at least reconsider their vote … and what they were prepared to do to the city of Hazleton, which would have been devastating,” he said.

But Nilles said he brought up his opposition to a $105,000 “phantom revenue” line item at the recent budget meeting. He said the money – revenue from an occupant registration fee – could not be collected because a federal judge struck down the Illegal Immigration Relief Act that authorized the fee.

After Yannuzzi asked him to reconsider his vote, Nilles moved to amend the budget to remove that line item, reduce projected revenue from court fines by $15,000 and increase projected revenue from the Hazleton Redevelopment Authority derived from a land sale agreement by $150,000.

The budget comes up for a second and final vote on Dec. 21.

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