WARREN, Pa. – Based on the discussion during City Council’s budget work session Thursday, City of Warren residents will be looking at a tax increase in 2021.
How much of an increase, if there is one, and how it will be levied remains fluid. But most of the council members spoke in favor of the increase during Thursday’s work session.
“I think taxes are part of what’s expected to keep the city moving,” Council member Douglas Hearn said.
The budget was advertised as potentially including a two mill tax increase.
Hearn said by his calculation the increase would cost about 65 cents per day, which he acknowledged could be a challenge for some.
“The majority of my taxes do not come from the city,” Hearn said. “I think it’s something we need to consider.”
Member Gregory Fraser said an increase would be the “fiscally prudent” thing to do to.
“Our only significant source of revenue is taxation,” Fraser said. “We haven’t raised taxes in the city in eight or 10 years, and we are eating away at our safety net.”
Fraser added a tax increase would be necessary in order for the city to continue providing all its current services.
“Our constituents want to have the services we are currently providing,” Fraser said. “I think our community as a whole supports having a full time fire department, a public works department. The price of civilization is taxation.”
Councilman Paul Giannini said the city has to start making up for lost revenue.
“I think we should raise taxes this year also,” Giannini said. “I think we’re falling behind the curve in revenue.”
Councilman Phil Gilbert said he “wanted to echo” Giannini’s comments.
John Wortman has voiced the strongest opposition to taxation on council, and he continued that opposition Thursday.
“The proposed tax increase is to real estate,” Wortman said. “People on fixed incomes, who own the homes, they’re the ones getting taxed. This increase is going to miss a lot of people who could afford it because they don’t own property.”
Mayor Maurice Cashman offered an alternative where the tax increase could be split between property taxes and the earned income tax.
According to City Manager Nancy Freenock, one mill of property taxes brings in $110,000 while a one percent EIT increase would bring in $163,000.
Wortman remained opposed.
“If you look at census data, look at where business is growing, where the population is growing, they’re moving to states with low tax burden,” Wortman said. “Until this changes, you’re going to continue to see the population decline that we have seen since 1970.”
“It’s not the taxation that’s driving people away, it’s jobs,” Fraser countered. “They don’t have jobs here.”
Councilman Christian Zavinski said he’s “not in favor of (an increase), given the circumstances of this year.”
“I think we’re going to have a rude awakening even next year,” he continued. “If we don’t raise taxes this year, there’s no way we don’t in 2022. I can’t in good conscience do it this year.”
Zavinski suggested getting more input from residents about what services they are willing to pay to keep before passing a tax increase.
Council hopes to take action on the budget during the December monthly meeting, which was moved to Dec. 14 at 7 p.m.