Lansford Borough Council members painted a much rosier picture of the town's finances for those attending a public meeting Wednesday than they did on Dec. 30 when they adopted a 2011 budget that increased the tax rate by 3.06 mills.
At the December meeting, Councilman Tommy Vadyak called for the borough to ask the state to help it file for bankruptcy. Council discussed the idea, ultimately rejecting it in favor of freezing additional purchases and studying the borough's revenues and expenditures with the help of an auditor to determine how to staunch the flow of red ink. It also voted to pay the $275,333 in bills it owes "as money becomes available," and borrowed money from its sewer transmission account – already $97,993 in the red – to pay wages.
On Wednesday, Councilwoman Danielle Smith announced that the borough is not facing bankruptcy. Indeed, an infusion of tax money has finally flowed into borough coffers – property owners had until Dec. 31 to pay their taxes – so the immediate money crunch has eased.
Resident Rita Klekamp questioned council about the financial problems, citing various expenditures she had found as she studied the cash flow. She asked Vadyak to explain the benefits and drawbacks of filing for bankruptcy, which he did.
"I don't see it as a detriment to the taxpayers," Vadyak said of the option.
Klekamp then asked council how the borough got into a financial predicament.
During its eight budget meetings, council members blamed an eroding tax base and rising insurance, vehicle and other costs for the predicament. Councilwoman Rose Mary Cannon said that each mill generates less revenue than in surrounding communities. She also pointed out that few, if any, residents attended the sessions. If they had, she said, they would better understand the situation. Council President Adam Webber said the current budget "is the most dissected and most accurate budget this borough has ever had."
He told Klekamp the problems have been accumulating over a long period.
"This didn't happen in one year," he said.
Secretary/treasurer Renee Slakoper said that while there are still bills that need to be paid, the borough is "no better or worse off than we were years ago."
Webber added that no vendors have shut the borough off. Vadyak added that one vendor had, but that Councilwoman Mary Kruczek had resolved that matter on New Year's Day.
Cannon said the departures last year of former secretary/treasurer Nicole Tessitore and former council president Bob Gaughan contributed to the problems.
"When you don't have a uniform flow of leaders, it sometimes leads to things not getting done as timely as they should," she said.
Cannon was optimistic.
"We are not bankrupt, and we shouldn't have to worry about going into Act 47 (the state's program for financially troubled municipalities)," she said. "In a couple of months we'll be in better shape because everything will be falling into place."
Cannon also alluded to what was apparently a lively exchange of opinions about the borough's finances on a local radio talk show, Air Your Opinion, that was broadcast Saturday.
In a related matter, Councilman Lenny Kovach said the Christmas decorations in town were purchased by Lansford's Improvement Committee, not taxpayers. He also said the borough "took a bad (financial) hit" of about $40,000 on equipment repairs/replacements last year.