Lansford council on a split vote Wednesday adopted a 2012 budget, wholly for the sake of complying with state law, which requires municipalities to adopt final budgets by Dec. 31.
The spending plan council adopted is the same one in place for this year. The plan is for council to reopen and reconfigure it in January. Council failed to draft a new spending plan because its financial situation remains in disarray.
So as of right now, the 2011 budget remains in place. Under that $1,578,161 plan, the property tax rate is 32.47 mills. That meant the owner of a home assessed for taxes at $25,000 paid $811.75 this year.
Council members Tommy Vadyak and Mary Kruczek opposed adopting the plan; Rosemary Cannon, Danielle Smith and Lenny Kovach voted in favor. Councilman Andrew Snyder and president Adam Webber were absent.
Vadyak blamed "poor leadership," alluding to Webber, for the situation.
Finances triggered a sharp exchange between Vadyak and Kruczek after Vadyak asked secretary-treasurer Beth Seymour how much the borough has in outstanding bills.
The amount tallies up to $305,000, including a $150,000 tax anticipation loan, she said.
"I can't wait for the state to come in and take over," Vadyak muttered.
"Are you going to call them?" Kruczek asked.
"Yes," Vadyak replied.
Cannon cautioned Vadyak to be careful what he wishes for, saying the state Department of Community and Economic Development charges for its services.
There ensued a loud argument between Vadyak and Kruczek, with Vadyak accusing Kruczek, who has been working in the office to organize the finances, of micromanaging, and Kruczek firing back that Vadyak should also help.
Kruczek said she believed she is "obligated to help the community as best I can." Vadyak suggested she has the time to do that because she doesn't work outside the home, whereas other council members hold down full-time jobs.
Vadyak was apparently angry that he went to the office to look at bills, but was not permitted to. Kruczek said that's because she's trying to get them into some semblance of order and does not want them disturbed.
In a related matter, borough businessman Bob Silver, who has been volunteering to help sort out the borough's financial mess, gave council a lengthy report on what he's found so far, and it wasn't good.
He focused on the sewer transmission account delinquencies. The sewer transmission account was established to offset the costs of sewer projects. Each household is charged $90 a year.
Silver said about 82 households have a credit balance, some as high as $220. He figures that somehow, the borough duplicated the records of payment.
The credits should be removed because they give the borough an inaccurate picture of expected revenue.
Further, he said the delinquent list "should be extremely short, as the borough is permitted to shut off the water of those delinquent."
The Lansford-Coaldale Joint Water Authority, the borough's Sewer Authority, the borough office and the code enforcement officer all need to be alerted to shutoffs. Also, the borough has continued to send bills to 32 properties where the water has been shut off.
Vadyak moved, and council agreed, to send letters to the water and sewer authorities, asking them to inform the borough office and code enforcement officer of any shutoffs.
"All this reflects in our accounts receivable. So now we're looking at the end of the year and saying, hey, we've got all this money coming in," he said. "We don't have this money coming in, and we're never going to have this money coming in."
Council in Feb. 2010 revised its late fee policy. The bills are mailed on Feb. 15 and due March 15, and carried a 10 percent penalty – $9 – if the bill is late. Council in Feb. 2010 approved an additional 5 percent if the bill is paid after Sept. 15. The additional 5 percent brings the total late bill plus the late fee to a total of $103.50. Silver said that's not enough.
"So it cost $14 not to pay your account, which you don't pay anyway when you're delinquent," he said.