Tunkhannock Borough Council unanimously approved a preliminary budget for 2018 on Thursday, that could see taxes rise 3 mills.
The final budget will be approved on Dec. 7.
Council President Bob Robinson said Thursday the increase is necessary because of three big problems facing the borough.
The first, Robinson said, is the amount of money necessary to cover the pension deficit for the borough’s uniformed employees.
Council had previously been informed that it had been under funding the uniform pension plan since 2008, due to misinformation provided by the borough’s previous investment advisor. By the time the shortfall was uncovered, it was determined the shortfall is $770,000.
To help defray the costs and trigger reduction in its annual MMO payment, council previously voted to borrow $320,000 from People’s Security Bank. The loan was later paid off with funds from the reserves.
In 2017, the borough payment to the uniformed pension plan was $37,491. But in 2018, the payment will go up to $86,989. Later during the meeting, council voted to authorize the 2018 payment.
The second problem, according to Robinson, is the amount the borough will have to pay in order to upgrade its storm water sewer system. Council has previously looked into the possibility of obtaining grants for the project, but has not yet found any.
At Mayor Norman Ball’s suggestion, council decided by consensus to form an ad hoc committee to continue to investigate if there is any grant money to offset the cost of the project.
The third problem, Robinson explained, is obtaining the money necessary to hire a fourth officer for the borough police. Like the storm sewer project, council has been searching for grant money to offset the cost, but has so far been unsuccessful.
According to figures provided during the meeting, the preliminary borough budget for 2018 is $1,058,092. This is actually a decrease from the projected year-end figure of $1,262,886 for 2017. However, this includes a negative balance of $210,726.
During the police report, Chief Keith Carpenter reported that acts of vandalism continue to occur throughout the borough.
Last month, two stone benches were damage, requiring repair. This past month, the chief said, windshields were damaged and a window was broken at the Wyoming County Press Examiner office.
Although each situation has been investigated, Carpenter said, the problem is they cannot determine a pattern to the criminal acts. At first they thought the vandalism might be attributed to juveniles, but now they think it might be different acts attributed to different people. The chief asked council members if they could put the word out to their neighbors to report any suspicious actions occurring throughout the area.
Council member Ruth Vincenti praised the efforts of Sgt. Robert Roberts, who responded to her home earlier in the month to investigate what she termed a “God awful noise” that woke her out of a sound sleep.
Roberts carefully searched throughout the area. It was eventually determined that no human being was involved in the incident.
Vincenti said Roberts was extremely helpful and polite, and made certain everything was all right at the scene.
Council also voted to defer six months of principal payments on an anchor loan made to the Dietrich Theater.
Robinson explained that the Dietrich has been going through a bit of financial strain, and the deferment will help it to makes ends meet.
Anchor loans are made by the borough to certain ‘anchor’ businesses in the community to help make improvements. Robinson noted that the Dietrich has been a vital part of downtown Tunkhannock, and council is happy to help it in this circumstance.
The Dietrich will still continue to pay the interest on the load during the six month grace period.
Three organizations made the following Payment In Lieu of Taxes to the borough - Care Net: $100; Wyoming County Historical Society: $250; and Children’s Center: $1,722. These organizations are normally exempt from local taxes, but Robinson said these and other similar organizations make PILOT payments, in acknowledgement of the services they receive from the borough.