Lehigh Valley

Easton mayor wrestles with 2018 budget

Next year's spending plan is due to council Oct. 2

EASTON, Pa. - Easton Mayor Sal Panto Jr. said he will be burning the midnight oil over the next several weeks in order to balance the city's 2018 budget.

Panto said the budget just had a major curve ball thrown into its general fund when the city planning commission last week fully rejected a Lafayette College dorm expansion proposal which would have netted the city thousands in impact and permit fees. 

During Wednesday's council meeting at the Easton Neighborhood Center on the city's south side, Panto said council has over time paved the way for a Lafayette building expansion on McCartney Street with rezoning efforts to include mixed-uses. But the planning commission became nervous, primarily over student parking, and turned down the college's proposal and any special exceptions it requested, according to the mayor.

Panto said his budget currently sits unbalanced and due Oct. 2 to council. He remarked that costs to the city, particularly rising pension costs, have continued to climb steadily, while real estate tax revenues are static because the city has no growth development opportunities.

Panto noted that although earned income and business privilege tax revenues have risen development and even redevelopment opportunities are waning, so real estate tax revenues will continue to slide.

Other expense uncertainties include Easton's rising health insurance costs although the city is self-insured. Panto also noted that all city employee union contracts will be up for negotiation next year.

The mayor was quick to point out Easton property taxes have not increased for the last nine years and that sewer and garbage collection fees have remained unchanged for the past eight years.

In other business, council approved grant applications for $680,000 to the state's Keystone Communities Grants program.

An application for $500,000 will be submitted for improvements to the city's west ward, and $180,000 for the demolition of the Day's Inn on South Third Street.

Panto said the west ward grant would be used to attract businesses offering not only goods and services to residents, but additional employment opportunities for locals promoting a walk-to-work environment.

He said the city's primary category prospect will be a retailer, possibly a grocery store.

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