Lehigh Valley

Even with surplus, Easton faces pension problems

Even with surplus, Easton faces pension problems

EASTON, Pa. - A new audit shows Easton is in the black again, but rising pension costs are putting a squeeze on the city and Mayor Sal Panto is asking for help from Harrisburg.

For the eighth straight year, the city had a surplus.

This time it was a little over $336,000.

That's almost $110,000 more than the end result of the 2012 audit.

But an issue that continues to be a problem is rising government pension costs.

"Most municipalities in Pennsylvania do have a pension problem," said Panto.

Even though a 2013 audit shows a $336,000 surplus in Easton, Panto calls legacy pension costs "crippling."

It's a problem that's chewing up more tax dollars each year and Panto says the solution is in the halls of Harrisburg.

"What we are promoting is House Bill 1581," added Panto. "Which is a common sense bipartisan solution to our growing municipal crisis."

The bill was introduced by Republican house member Seth Grove out of York County, but so far has been stuck in committee.

Until real reform comes, city leaders are watching every penny.

The newly released 2013 audit proves that.

Money from the six figure surplus will be split into three reserve accounts.

$150,000 goes to the health benefits account, which took a $1.7 million hit due to an abnormally high number of claims.

In fact, 14 claims were for $25,000 or higher.

"One of the most challenging things for most municipalities now is where we find ourselves as secondary parties in the liability insurance which cost the city thousands of dollars in legal funds," said Glenn Steckman, Easton city administrator.

Even with rising health care and pension costs on the horizon, Panto says Easton is in good financial shape.

"2014 looks good," added Panto. "But again we meet all the time on the budget and I can pretty much assure you that we will again have another surplus."

The city credit rating increased from an "A-" to an "A+."

Panto says that will help get better interest rates for upcoming city construction projects.

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