About 50 Carbon County taxpayers heard in court yesterday why a 5-mill realty tax increase is needed this year.

They also learned there could be a 20-mill occupational assessment tax next year, which would be an average of $100 per resident subject to the tax.

Dean D.W. DeLong, chairman of the commissioners, testified that in searching for new revenues to finance county government, the commissioners plan to enact in 1994 the occupational tax, which the county abandoned in 1988, as a means of lessening the tax burden on property owners.

DeLong disclosed the occupational tax in answering a question by President Judge John P. Lavelle about future plans the commissioners have to raise revenue, in order to avoid asking for another realty millage hike next year.

Lavelle and Associate Judge Richard Webb presided during the three-hour public hearing in Courtroom No. 1 of the courthouse in Jim Thorpe.

Lavelle said at the close of the hearing that a decision will be handed down as soon as possible.

The general fund rate is 25 mills, the legal limit by state law. The commissioners petitioned the county court for another 5 mills to balance the $8.4 million budget.

The county levies an additional 7.2 mills for the real estate tax to pay off $8 million in loans, for prison construction and other major capital improvement projects such as courthouse renovation. The 7.2 mills for debt service is separate from the 25-mill tax for the general fund.

Also at the hearing, DeLong said the commissioners plan to review tax-exempt properties, such as hospitals, to determine if some of those can be added to the tax rolls.

He said the commissioners can't raise realty tax rates, the 4-mill personal property tax or the $5 per capita tax and have few options to raise future revenue unless the state allows a county sales tax or a county wage tax.

He said the commissioners, in cutting future expenses, will have the opportunity to review and set salaries of tax collectors -- who will be elected to four-year terms this year.

DeLong said the occupational tax notices will be sent out later this year so tax collections can begin in 1994. The levy will be four-tiered, he said, with these classes: working, non-working retired and unemployed. Each job will be valued based on an updated list of occupations. The 20-mill tax rate will be applied to the job's rated value, DeLong explained.

The occupational tax would replace the current $5 per capita tax, which nets the county about $176,000 annually.

DeLong said projections are that the occupational tax would generate $3.8 million --38,000 taxpayers multiplied by an average bill of $100 -- and that would place the county in a position to reduce real estate taxes.

DeLong said after the hearing if the 5-mill increase is not granted, the county will have an unbalanced budget and will have to cut back services, shorten hours of operation or lay off employees.

During questioning by Roger Nanovic II, county solicitor, DeLong testified that many court-related expenses totaling more than $30,000 which had been requested by Lavelle and cut from the budget by the commissioners, have been reinstated.

Lavelle laid the ground rules for residents testifying, stating it is a given that no one, including the judges and the county commissioners wants a tax increase.

The purpose of the hearing, he said, was to have the commissioners explain why they need the additional 5 mills, so others can question them about their budget and whether proposed expenditures are reasonable and necessary.

Nine taxpayers followed DeLong to the witness stand and presented their views, mostly about the unfairness of the property assessment system, stating they don't mind paying taxes but object that some pay less than their fair share.