Today Kittatinny, Pennsylvania mayor Gustavus G. Patykewicz proposed eliminating a police shift from 4 a.m. until noon, rising taxes and having residents pay for trash pickup as key points in the 2016 budget.
Patykewicz said, “I come to you with a heavy heart. These are not actions I take lightly. We are having a fiscal crisis in the city of Kittatinny and we must respond to it”
This year’s budget has a deficit of over $99,000. This largely stems from the closure of a blast furnace last summer at the Susquehanna Steel Corp. The closure decreased the industrial tax base by $103.8 million for the year 2016 causing the deficit. The proposed cuts have already started to raise controversy among the city officials.
The most controversial cutback is the idea of eliminating the police shift from 4 a.m. until noon. This means that there would be no Kittatinny police officers on duty during this time and the city would on a contract basis send emergency calls to the county sheriff’s office.
Police Chief Roman Hruska said, “I cannot stand idly by and watch a city of this size be deprived of regular police protection for a third of each day.” He also said “I think it is a hare-brained idea… and I don’t know what the mayor was thinking or smoking when he came up with this.”
Also two police officers are slated to be laid off and Hruska hopes to be able to save their jobs. He said that it is not a wise thing to do to cut officers at this time. It costs roughly $70,000 to employ each officer so that amount of money would have to be found in order to keep the usual police protection.
One proposed way to save the officers jobs and retain full police presence is to raise taxes higher that what Patykewicz initially proposed. The initial proposal was to raise taxes from 4 mills to 4.3 mills. What this means is at last year’s tax rate a house that was worth $100,000 the owner would pay $400 in property taxes. At the new tax rate the owner would pay $30 more. However, to solve the police problem, Patykewicz and Denelda Penoyer the president of the city council proposed raising taxes to a rate of 5 mills. This means a house that was worth $100,000 the owner would now pay $500 in property taxes.
Rising taxes to a rate of 5 mills would allow for the police to avoid the cutbacks and the normal police protection would stay. However, the main concern is that with many people still out of work that some simply may not be able to afford the increase.
Another cut that is being made is to the garbage collection. According to the mayor citizens are not likely to notice a difference in trash collection. Tioga Sanitation Co. will still pick up trash once a week; however, residents will be charged roughly $30 per month on their water bill. This would save the city almost $187,000 a year.
The proposed budget calls for a salary freeze of all city personnel. However, in order to help with the budget deficit all of the city officials we spoke with said that they would all be willing to take a salary cut if they could get all of the officials on board. Similarly Martha Mittengrabben the president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 644 and Bjarne Westhoff the president of the Pennsylvania Police Association Local 34 both said that they would ask their members to think about reopening their contracts in order to avoid the layoffs of two police officers and two other city employees.
Both Patykewicz and Penoyer invite citizens to contact them with any budget concerns they may have.
“My door is always open,” said Patykewicz.
The city council will be holding public hearings about the budget starting this week. A schedule will be released soon and there will be hearings on various days and times so that everyone can have their voice heard.