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Panto: County Wrong On Commuter Tax

"The county can continue to threaten to leave and I say 'Go ahead,'" Easton's mayor says. Tax would impact Forks and Palmer residents.

Easton's mayor ripped Northampton County Council Wednesday night for its resolution opposing the .

"The county can continue to threaten to leave and I say 'Go ahead,'" said Mayor Sal Panto Jr. about comments made at the July 5 county council meeting.

At that meeting, county council urging City Council to reject the increase.

"Frankly, the City gets very, very little from hosting the county prison, the county administration building because the employees only get a half-hour lunch [and can’t patronize local businesses]," Panto said.

The city is proposing raising the commuter tax on all non-residents who work in the city from 1 percent to 1.75 percent. Currently, the city gets no funding from the 1 percent as half goes to the employee’s home municipality and the rest goes to the school board. Easton residents already pay 1.75 percent.

The tax would have a major impact on Forks and Palmer township residents who commute to work in Easton.

According to City Finance Director Chris Hegele, the tax is needed to cover $1.35 million of a projected $1.85 million shortfall in the city’s pension obligations for its approximately 200 employees.

The shortfall was caused by a declining return on investments and more accurate information on the potential life spans of retirees. Hegele said he was unsure about how many people would wind up paying the new tax.

In its resolution, County Council said the implementation of the tax increase in difficult economic times would be an “unfair imposition on workers already struggling to make ends meet.” The resolution also stated that the tax could force businesses to move out of the city.

Panto expressed surprise at the county's stand. He said he thought the city and the county were on good terms. He expressed dismay that no representatives from the county have attended any of the several city council meetings -- including this one -- where the issue had been discussed.

For their part, county council members expressed disappointment last week that no one from the city had approached them about the tax.

Panto said the city is hamstrung because of the large amount of land inside its borders that is tax exempt, including that owned by the county. More than 40 percent of the property in Easton is tax exempt. For its property, the county does not make a payment in lieu of taxes, something Panto believes should change.

 “If the county wants to protect its employees from paying a commuter tax, then maybe they should consider a payment in lieu of taxes,” he said. “And they haven’t been willing to do that.”

He said that non-residents need to realize that in order for Easton to exist and provide financial opportunities, they must pay a fair share for running the system. He noted the city has cut back on its employees and has asked its work force to pay more toward healthcare and pensions in recent years.

"If you want to live in the lily white beautiful suburban community, you have to do something to pay for that," said Panto.

Deputy Mayor Kenneth Brown said in comparison to the suburbs, Easton has few bullets to employ when faced with fiscal challenges.

"What the suburbs don't realize is that they have the infrastructure that the city of Easton doesn't," Brown said. "We don’t have the malls. We don’t have the things to draw that revenue from."

A is set for Monday, July 16 at 6 p.m.

Carolyn July 12, 2012 at 07:14 PM
I am a little surprised at the county council's stance - "unfair imposition on workers already struggling to make ends meet." I would think that the police, fire, and public works workers who maintain the city are stuggling a little more than the lawyers, law clerks, and county executives that swarm around the area of Walnut and Seventh during the day and return to their 4-BR, 2-BA, in the suburbs. Most of the "workers" in the county buildings that I ever met are Easton residents. The clerks, guards, security, and baliffs that I know live West Ward, South Easton, College Hill, and even center city. They are already paying 1.75. It's time for the non-residents who are protected by city services while at work to help pay for those services.
Molly July 12, 2012 at 10:35 PM
The City of Easton already collects a $50 OPT from workers to cover the services you mentioned Carolyn (this is $40 higher than surrounding municipalities whom charge a $10 OPT to cover services). The .75% EIT that the City of Easton is proposing is *only* for pension payments, nothing else. The EIT will not cover any of the services you mentioned Carolyn. Maybe the City should institue that City employees (whom are receiving a pension from the City) should have to live in the City. Now that makes sense.

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