Budget standoff looms in Allentown after council rejects tax increases, fails to override veto
ALLENTOWN, Pa. — A budget impasse seems imminent in Allentown, with officials on both sides of a potential tax increase digging in.
The 2024 budget has been the talk of the town since Oct. 16, when Mayor Matt Tuerk delivered his budget proposal that called for a 6.9% property tax increase for next year.
He said those new tax revenues would help cover the costs of adding more than 20 employees across many city services, including a dozen new firefighters, five new workers in the parks and recreation department and several other positions.
One month, two counter-proposals and three failed tax increases later, Allentown is no closer to finalizing its spending plan for 2024.
Tuerk’s initial tax-increase proposal found little support from Allentown City Council, leading the mayor to lower his request to 4.57%. Council voted that down 5-2 at its Nov. 4 meeting before passing a budget with no new taxes.
“I deeply believe in providing high-quality services to our residents. We can continue to do that at 2%. At 0%, we have to make cuts that are going to be felt by all of our residents. That’s unfair. That’s called disinvestment.”Allentown Mayor Matt Tuerk
The mayor vetoed that budget several days later, saying the city needs to raise some new revenues — and thus, taxes — to keep serving residents at the levels they’ve come to expect, with inflation causing many costs to balloon.
“If we implement a budget that does not adequately increase revenue, we won’t be able to keep doing things that all our residents consider important,” he said in a memo explaining his veto.
He urged council to soften its opposition to new taxes and reopen discussions over a 2% increase.
But four members rejected the mayor’s plea and tried Wednesday night to override his budget veto. The veto override, which failed, would have locked in the 2024 budget with no new taxes.
With Tuerk’s veto left intact and council’s tax-increase-free budget dead in the water, members offered the mayor a chance Wednesday to detail his 2% request.
Those additional revenues would fund raises within the city’s police department and emergency medical services to retain more of those workers; a sustainability coordinator in the city’s Parks and Recreation Department; and a new worker in the traffic division to maintain signs and streets, he said.
“We’re offering, in exchange for that, a cut of pretty much everything you asked to cut,” Tuerk said.
Council again rejected the mayor’s request for a tax increase. Still, Tuerk had no doubts after the meeting about his next step.
“I’m going to come back at 2%,” Tuerk said.
“I deeply believe in providing high-quality services to our residents,” he said. “We can continue to do that at 2%. At 0%, we have to make cuts that are going to be felt by all of our residents. That’s unfair. That’s called disinvestment.”
Tuerk’s proposed 2% tax increase earned support Wednesday from council members Candida Affa, Santo Napoli and President Daryl Hendricks. But he’ll need to flip at least one of the four council members who rejected the proposal.
Ed Zucal, Ce-Ce Gerlach and Natalie Santos each told LehighValleyNews.com they will not change their votes to support any new taxes in the 2024 budget.
"We need the mayor to present a 0% increase budget," Gerlach said.
Cynthia Mota, who did not immediately respond to this outlet, said Wednesday night that she believes “the community is going to suffer” under any tax increase.
Allentown officials must adopt the 2024 budget by Dec. 31.