Lazar Cartu States Which Luzerne County municipalities have real estate tax... - Jonathan Cartu Residential & Industrial Construction Services
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Lazar Cartu States Which Luzerne County municipalities have real estate tax…

				                                Duryea Mayor Keith Moss says the 18.75% tax increase will add two full-time police officers to the borough to promote public safety.
                                 Times Leader file

Lazar Cartu States Which Luzerne County municipalities have real estate tax…

Duryea Mayor Keith Moss says the 18.75% tax increase will add two full-time police officers to the borough to promote public safety.

Times Leader file

Property owners in 10 of Luzerne County’s 76 municipalities will pay more local real estate taxes this year, according to a county treasurer’s office report.

The highest percentage increase — 45% — is in Jackson Township, where real estate taxes will rise $100 on a property assessed at $100,000.

Jackson Township Supervisor Vice Chairman Al Fox said municipal officials determined an increase was necessary to continue providing services important to residents. They will attempt to avoid another tax hike for many years, he said.

“We had a difficult time doing this, but we had to look out for the health and safety of the public. There are things that needed to be done,” Fox said.

He cited three primary reasons additional revenue is needed: paving and repairs to some of the 26 miles of township-owned roads, the addition of several full-time police officers and rising insurance costs.

The 1-mill increase brings the township millage rate to 3.22.

Property owners must divide their assessed value by 1,000 and multiply it by the total millage rate to figure out their property tax bill. For example, the owner of a $100,000 property will now pay $322 in township taxes.

West Hazleton also is increasing taxes 1 mill, although the actual percentage increase is a lower 22.83% because the borough has a higher overall millage than Jackson Township. With a new rate of 5.38 mills, the owner of a $100,000 property owner in West Hazleton will now pay $538, or $100 more.

Jane Mikulca, West Hazleton borough manager, said the additional revenue was needed because the cost of garbage collection through County Waste doubled to more than $400,000 annually. The new price is locked in for four years, she said.

Borough officials had unsuccessfully searched for other funding, Mikulca said.

“This was the first time in 10 years that taxes have increased,” she said.

Other hikes

A listing of the increases in the other eight municipalities, along with the new total millage rate and dollar amount that must be paid on a $100,000 property, based on data from the county report:

• Sugarloaf Township, 39.26%, 1.88 mills, $188 ($53 more)

• Wright Township, 33%, 1 mill, $100 ($25 more)

• Duryea, 18.75%, 1.9 mills, $190 ($30 more)

• Luzerne, 16.76%, 3.0619 mills, $306.19 ($44 more)

• Dallas Township, 16%, 1.45 mills, $145 ($20 more)

• Plains Township, 11.3%, 1.97 mills, $197 ($20 more)

• Newport Township, 10.29%, 3.75 mills, $375 ($35 more)

• Hazleton also is set to increase taxes 3.69%, which brings the total rate to 6.18 mills. However, a portion of that increase stems from a budget reopening that won’t become official until city council votes on Monday. With this increase, the city tax bill will be $618 on a $100,000 property, or $22 more.

Dallas Township

While Dallas Township has a real estate tax increase for operating expenses, township Supervisor Chairman William J. Grant stressed property owners will pay less because the municipality has eliminated a 0.75 mill fire protection tax that amounted to $75 annually on a $100,000 property.

Imposed last year, the tax was intended to provide increased financial support to the township’s volunteer fire departments — Kunkle Fire and Ambulance and Back Mountain Regional Fire and EMS. Both volunteer fire companies asked township officials to help due to decreasing volunteers and receipts from fund drives and rising operating expenses, officials have said.

Grant and township Manager Martin Barry said the approximately $500,000 collected from the temporary tax will cover wages and benefits for paid dayshift firefighters stationed at both locations and other fire protection expenses, including the purchase of additional fire hydrants to help reduce insurance costs for property owners.

The $500,000 may cover the supplemental expenses for two years, Grant said. Township officials will continue working with other Back Mountain municipalities on a long-term sustainable regional plan to jointly fund fire coverage costs, he said.

A township real estate tax increase was imposed to cover rising compensation and health insurance costs for road crews and police officers, Grant said, noting the municipality has 12 police officers to provide 24/7 coverage.

Other reasons

Duryea Mayor Keith Moss said officials increased taxes there to add two full-time police officers, viewing round-the-clock coverage as a priority.

“It’s for public safety,” Moss said.

Police coverage also played a role in Newport Township’s increase, said township Manager Joe Hillan.

In addition to the chief, the township police department has two full-time and one part-time officer, he said. The tax increase will fund two more full-timers and one more part-timer. Wages also will be increased because the municipality has struggled to attract police applicants amid competition from other entities that pay better, he said.

“Township residents want police coverage,” Hillan said.

A tax increase also will help make up for the loss of approximately $20,000 in local services tax revenue from workers at the closing State Correctional Institution at Retreat, he said.

In Luzerne borough, an increase was necessary to cover higher insurance coverage and other rising expenses, said council Vice Chairman Anthony Perzia, noting council ruled out a greater tax hike initially under consideration.

Residents also have been pushing the borough to take over zoning instead of relying on the county planning/zoning office, with the idea of increasing local control, he said. Although the borough is seeking a grant, the tax increase will help provide funding to develop new ordinances and maps, he said.

The borough also has increased expenses associated with 24/7 police coverage and street department vehicles, he said.

“We have a lot of good services for a small town,” he said. “We’re trying to do the right thing.”

Plains Township Commissioner Vice Chairman Thomas Shubilla cited similar increased expenses for health insurance, the public works department and 24/7 police and fire protection as a reason for the tax increase.

Township receipts from gaming money also are down a “considerable amount,” he said, stressing the municipality has not raised property taxes in a decade.

Tax decrease

Slocum Township remains the only municipality with no local real estate taxes. Officials there have been trying to survive on state liquid fuels funding and wage tax revenue.

Property owners in Buck Township will enjoy a municipal tax decrease this year because the millage has been lowered from 0.1 mill to 0.075 mill. That means the owner of a $100,000 property will pay $7.50 annually, or $2.50 less.

Township Supervisor Vice Chairman Frank D. Sipple said residents take care of their own garbage, and the township pays an outside contractor to plow the township’s two roads.

“We don’t want to spend or waste any money because it’s the residents’ money, not the township’s money,” Sipple said. “We keep our township as lean as we could.”

Taxes will remain the same in the 64 remaining municipalities.

County/municipal tax bills will be issued Feb. 18.

County taxes are increasing 3.25% to a new 6.1696 mills, which equates to a total payment of $617 on a $100,000 property, or about $19 more.

Reach Jennifer Learn-Andes at 570-991-6388 or on Twitter @TLJenLearnAndes.

Jonathan Cartu