Eight Lackawanna County municipalities hiked property taxes for 2023

Feb. 19—A fifth of Lackawanna County's 40 municipalities raised property taxes this year, with elected officials attributing the hikes to inflation, rising costs for first responders, much-needed municipal projects and other factors.

Property owners in Archbald, Dunmore, Greenfield Twp., Mayfield, Moosic, North Abington Twp., Old Forge and Scranton will pay higher municipal tax bills in 2023.

Residents in several municipalities also will see higher garbage bills this year because of more expensive contracts or annual rate increases as part of multi-year contracts.

Dunmore increased property taxes by nearly 23% from 44 mills to 54 mills to keep the town financially solvent while avoiding layoffs and additional debt, according to borough officials. The Pennsylvania Economy League, which Dunmore hired to offer insights on its finances, recommended the tax hike. Dunmore last raised taxes in its 2010 budget when it bumped its millage rate from 45 to 54 mills. Five years later, the borough reduced its millage to 44 mills for 2015 after signing a more lucrative host agreement with the Keystone Sanitary Landfill.

Following the unanimous vote to raise taxes in December, Dunmore Council Vice President Janet Brier pointed to the costs of running full-time police and fire departments as reasons for the hike.

A mill is a $1 tax on every $1,000 of assessed property value. Residents with homes assessed at $10,000, the median residential assessed value in Dunmore, will pay $540 in property taxes this year — a $100 increase from 2022.

Scranton, the only municipality in the county with separate millage rates for land and buildings, raised taxes by about 5.8 mills, or 2%. That breaks down to a roughly 4.8-mill increase to the land rate and a 1-mill hike for buildings.

A typical city homeowner will pay about $18 more this year due to the modest tax hike, though the impact will be more pronounced for owners of higher-assessed homes.

Mayor Paige Gebhardt Cognetti's administration originally proposed a 3% tax hike to help offset the impact of inflation on city operations and address declining assessed real estate valuation. Scranton lost about $8.3 million of assessed value between 2019 and 2022, resulting in a 2022 loss of about $587,953 in would-be property tax revenue.

City council ultimately curtailed the tax hike to 2% as part of a broader series of amendments to Scranton's 2023 budget, which ended up totaling $116 million.

Administration officials made the case for a tax hike, the first approved under Cognetti, during the budget process. Scranton Finance Director Matthew Domines told council in November the city's past unwillingness to approve modest increases ultimately led to more precipitous hikes.

Scranton didn't raise taxes from 2008 to 2010 and cut taxes by about 11% in 2011, Domines noted. From 2012, when the city hit rock bottom financially, through 2016, city property taxes increased by 109%.

Other municipalities

While Dunmore and Scranton residents saw the largest municipal property tax hikes, residents across the Upvalley, Midvalley, Downvalley and Abingtons will also pay more this year.

Moosic raised taxes 3.5 mills to 21.87 mills to increase revenue in the interest of financial sustainability. A December post on the borough's website noted the impact of rising costs related to COVID-19 response, collectively bargained wage and benefit increases, law enforcement and other factors contributing to fiscal pressures.

A typical Moosic homeowner will pay about $240.57 in borough property taxes this year, up from about $202 last year.

Mayfield increased property taxes by 2.5 mills to 36.5 mills amid multiple grant-funded projects, including building a garage, maintaining its levee and working to construct an indoor farmers market, Mayor Al Chelik said. As part of its tax increase, Mayfield shifted property taxes from its general fund into multiple special mills, most notably 9 mills toward debt service, he said.

Mayfield had to take out a $125,000 loan in order to pay its contractors and cover a 15% match for the levee project grant, Chelik said, explaining the borough had to pay the contractors before it could apply for reimbursement.

Chelik also noted the costs of gas and utilities, policing and road crews, as well as reduced property values after property owners successfully appealed their assessments. With millions of square feet of new warehouse space slated for the borough, Chelik doesn't anticipate raising taxes in the future.

A typical Mayfield homeowner will pay about $273.75 in borough property taxes this year, up from $255 last year.

As Archbald continues to grow, officials raised taxes by 2 mills, totaling 27 mills, council President Dave Moran said. He attributed the increase to the need for an additional full-time police officer, a new DPW worker, the high cost of utilities and the borough's ongoing 15-year paving plan that will eventually resurface every street in the town.

"It's just the basic services," he said. "We've just got to expand."

A typical Archbald homeowner will pay about $270 in borough property taxes this year, compared to $250 last year.

Greenfield Twp. raised taxes 2 mills, totaling 19 mills, to help cover the cost of the paid emergency medical services it shares with Clifford Twp. in Susquehanna County. The 2-mill hike will generate about $37,000 in new revenue, almost half of Greenfield's $75,000 annual cost of the ambulance services. The EMS service is an invaluable, life-saving resource for the rural townships, Greenfield Twp. Supervisor and Treasurer Mike Mancuso said. A typical Greenfield homeowner will pay about $20 more in township property taxes this year.

North Abington Twp. also hiked taxes 2 mills, raising a typical homeowner's township tax bill to $126.50, an increase of about $22.

"Just like everybody else, with the cost of everything going through the roof, we needed to have a little extra income," Supervisor Thomas Mundrake said. "For us, that 2 mills, it's only $16,000 (in new revenue). It doesn't cover much, but it does help with utilities and a few other things."

Old Forge raised property taxes by 1.5 mills to 21.75 mills. It was the first time the borough raised taxes since 2009, borough Manager MaryLynn Bartoletti said, citing increased costs of utilities, insurances, gas and all other expenses associated with daily operations in the borough.

"Our millage is low to begin with, and that millage doesn't really bring in a lot," she said. "I think it's really just to fill in those gaps."

The borough is also looking to add two additional full-time police officers as it works with the Old Forge School District to provide two school resource officers, she said.

A typical Old Forge homeowner will pay $217.50 in borough property taxes this year. Last year, the same homeowner would have paid $202.50.

Finally, Scott Twp. eliminated the 1 mill tax dedicated to EMT service, lowering taxes from 15 to 14 mills, Supervisor Michael Giannetta said. Township voters approved the EMT tax by referendum in 2020, but the township axed the dedicated 1 mill levy when Pennsylvania Ambulance acquired Commonwealth Health Emergency Medical Services, the health system's ambulance and medical transportation provider.

A typical Scott Twp. homeowner will pay $11 less in property taxes, decreasing from $165 to $154.

Trash fees

Officials in Jermyn, Mayfield, Moosic and Vandling reported increased garbage fees this year, while Jessup residents had a modest increase effectively waived.

While Jermyn did not raise property taxes, it doubled its garbage fee from $250 to $500, council President Frank Kulick said. Jermyn's garbage contract expired in December, and the borough put a new contract out to bid. The lowest bid came in at roughly $1.3 million for three years, Kulick said. Their previous three-year contract totaled about $650,000, he said.

Vandling's garbage fee rose from $245 to $420, also because of a new contract, borough Secretary Nancy Perri said. The borough's three-year, $247,000 contract was about $57,000 more than their previous contract, she said.

"It was definitely higher than we were thinking," she said.

Moosic also doubled its garbage fee for 2023, from $75 to $150 per household.

In Mayfield, the borough increased its garbage fee from $277 to $322 per household as it entered into the second year of its five-year garbage contract, Chelik said. The $45 increase allowed the borough to lock in the rate for the remainder of the contract, so it will remain at $322 through 2026, he said.

Jessup has incrementally absorbed the cost of garbage fees for residents since 2020, council President Gerald Crinella said. Last year, residents paid $35, he said. This year, the fee rose by an additional $25. Instead of shifting it on to residents, Crinella said Jessup essentially eliminated what would have been a $60 garbage fee for residents this year.

The borough is in a healthy financial state, Crinella said, citing Jessup's $1-million-per-year host agreement with the Lackawanna Energy Center power plant.

"Every citizen is living with (the power plant) up there, so it's our obligation to give some back to them, so that's the way we give it back," he said.

Contact the writers: jhorvath@timesshamrock.com; 570-348-9141; @jhorvathTT on Twitter; flesnefsky@timesshamrock.com; 570-348-9100 x5181; @flesnefskyTT on Twitter.