Lehigh Valley

Allentown Council rejects mayor's budget but tax hike remains possible

ALLENTOWN, Pa. - Allentown City Council rejected Mayor Ray O'Connell's proposed 2019 budget, which contained a 27 percent tax hike on property owners, during their Wednesday night meeting. The vote was 4-3.

President Roger MacLean, Councilmen Julio Guridy, Daryl Hendricks and Edward Zucal voted against it. Councilwomen Candida Affa, Cynthia Mota and Councilman Courtney Robinson voted for it.

However, without an amended or new budget by Dec. 15, O'Connell's budget will by default become law. This stipulation is mandated by the Allentown City Charter.

That means unless something changes in the next nine days, an Allentown home with an improvement value of $150,000 and a land value of $20,000 will see their annual city property taxes increased from $903 to $1,139 or about $240 a year, according to the city. Specifically, the 1.5 mill tax increase will bring in another $7.6 million from property owners to help the financially struggling city make ends meet.

On Monday night, Guridy presented an omnibus budget that would have made cuts and in the process lowered the tax burden on property owners. The amended document could not secure majority support. On Wednesday night, Guridy said it was "his intention" to introduce another proposal that would reduce the tax burden by 20 percent. However, Guridy did not introduce that plan on the advice of solicitor Matthew Kloiber.

In an explanation as to why, Kloiber said introducing the document would violate the council's rules established to ensure adequate time for review. The allotted time is 48 hours. In Guridy's last minute proposal, that timetable would not have been met. However, Kloiber added there have been instances where the council did not follow its own rules, although he added it was unusual and rare. Under this premise, Kloiber's office advised the legislative body against such an action.

MacLean could call a special meeting of City Council before Dec. 15 in a last ditch effort to reach an alternative proposal. It was not immediately known if that would happen.

In voting against the budget, Zucal said "this is a very difficult time for (the city)."

The city has not raised taxes for 13 years, which Zucal said was a mistake.

“(Ultimately) this is where we're at," Zucal said.

He added this decision has kept him awake at night, and he's finally reached a conclusion.

"I cannot in good conscience make the residents of this city pay a 27 percent tax increase," Zucal said.

Hendricks was concerned that a 27 percent tax increase "will impact our citizens to a great degree."

"We don't want to give such a big blow to the residents," Guridy said.

Previously, O'Connell has indicated the tax increase is needed to produce a balanced budget.


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