Judge realizes odds remain against Shamokin
It's not ideal that Shamokin property owners will be asked to pay an extra 5 mills in taxes again in 2013, but the court's approval of that special exception is prudent.
It has become nearly routine for the city to ask for and receive permission to tax real estate at 30 mills, 5 mills above the limit set by the Third Class City Code.
This year, with recent publicity surrounding city spending - a proposed $9,350 raise for the city clerk garnering much of the attention - President Judge Robert B. Sacavage asked more questions of city officials than in past years when he conducted a hearing on the matter Thursday. He also took a few hours to digest the testimony before issuing his ruling later in the day.
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The raise and other spending concerns aside, Shamokin, like many other small U.S. cities, has the odds stacked against it:
- There are few residents, many having left for life in suburbia.
- Manufacturers have moved away or closed, further reducing tax revenue.
- Costs, meanwhile, have escalated, from health care and pensions to salaries and fuel for police and other vehicles.
- Also noted at the hearing is the Third Class City Code doesn't allow taxation to pay for street light costs, yet boroughs and township can tax for those expenses. Legislation to change that has been proposed.
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While council will have to answer to its constituents for its decisions on raises and other matters, it's not as if the city is spending lavishly or not addressing its limited funds. It has unfilled positions in the police and street departments, for example, and made wise moves this year in regards to refinancing debt and lowering other costs.
The extra tax Shamokin will levy, if everyone paid, would generate $170,000, but it'll be more like $120,000 based on a 76 percent collection rate in 2011.
For the city to make up that kind of money, it would take the layoff, for example, of probably two full-time, higher-paid police officers (considering salary and benefits). That's a significant price to pay, and Sacavage recognized that in suggesting "the very health, safety and welfare of the residents of the city would be adversely affected" should the millage increase request be denied.
So the millage will be higher again in 2013, but city officials must continue their efforts to spend wisely, with the goal of eventually alleviating the extra burden on its property owners.