Coaldale borough council's first order of business in this new year was to tinker with the budget it adopted in December, hoping to make it putter along on fewer tax dollars.
The board, at its regular public meeting Tuesday, supported Councilman Tom Keerans' motion to reopen the spending plan. Councilwoman Nancy Lorchak said her budget committee expects to have a proposal ready for council's Feb. 14 meeting.
On Dec. 13, council approved a 2012 budget that calls for a 3-mill, 13.3 percent, property tax increase. Under that plan, which increases the tax rate to 25.54 mills, the owner of a property assessed at $25,000 would pay $638.50 in borough tax up $75 from last year. Each mill generates about $28,000.
The borough, like many others, is struggling to make ends as costs rise and revenue lags.
Lorchak said the failure of more people to pay their taxes looms large in the budget picture. Last year, tax delinquencies left the borough $96,624 – almost 3.5 mills – in the hole. Further, the borough has gotten word that St. Luke's Miners Memorial Hospital for the first time in decades has decided to not contribute its traditional annual $17,000 stipend, even though Coaldale signed off on a $1.5 million grant application for the facility, maintains the street built to link Route 209 to the hospital and borough police are frequently called to the hospital to handle unruly patients.
Among the increased expenses are an additional $12,000 in workmens' compensation costs, bumping the annual bill to $52,000, and another $13,000 to repay money borrowed for a never-fulfilled contract with Municipal Energy Managers, of Lackawanna County, which had promised to save the borough thousands of dollars a year by taking over its street light system operations from PPL.
In other matters Tuesday, council:
Ÿ Agreed to buy a $350 backflow device to prevent further leakage of sewage into the cellar of a Water Street home owned by Steve and Michelle Tentylo. The couple in October asked council for help. The sewage floods into the home during heavy rains, when storm water mixes with sewer effluent. SteveTentylo said he believed the problem started when the borough put in a new 8-inch main last October. The line narrows to 6-inches at one point, and that is too small to handle the flow of storm water.
Further, he has said, the borough in 2006 plugged a pipe that had discharged sewage into a creek from a nearby property whose owners did not connect to the borough system. Now, Tentylo said, the sewer and storm water combine during periods of heavy rain and back up into his basement.
Council had its engineer inspect the area, and learned the solution was to install the backflow device.
Ÿ Discussed the ongoing mold problem in a vacant half-double house at 132 W. Ridge St. Ruthanne and Ron Kehl, who live in the attached home at 134 W. Ridge St., are angry and frustrated. They have been pleading for help for almost two years, asking council to do something about the situation.
"I've about had it," Ruthanne Kehl said.
The house at 132 W. Ridge has been vacant since the owner was forced by the borough to leave in April, 2010 when a long-neglected water leak damaged the house too much to make it safe for human habitation.
The roof continues to leak between the adjoining wall, and the water from that and flooding in an adjacent lot have resulted in the empty house becoming overwhelmed by mold. The Kehl's have been battling the creeping mold infestation and a burgeoning rat problem.
The couple has unsuccessfully sought help from federal and state agencies, and from state Sen. David G. Argall. On Tuesday, Councilman David Yelito said he would again call Schuylkill County's grant writer, Gary Bender, to press him to find money to allow the borough to acquire and demolish the property.
Ÿ Listened as Fire Chief Richard Marek updated them about the company's efforts to recoup money spent to clean up a fuel oil spill. Marek in December said it cost the company $300 for 1,500 pounds of absorbent to mop up the oil, which was spilled by a resident who was hauling it in a tank in the back of a pickup truck on Nov. 27. The oil spilled from the area of the car wash along borough streets to High Street. The state Department of Environmental Protection mandated the cleanup, Marek has said. He said the truck driver may also be charged for the fire company's time and equipment use.
Marek on Tuesday said a bill has been sent, but that the resident continues to refuse to give the fire company insurance information. Council asked Police Chief Tim Delaney to direct the officer who was on duty that night, Joseph Krebs, to pay the man a visit.