Lansford council on Wednesday agreed to reopen the budget it approved in December, but with trepidation.
The spending plan council had approved was the same one it adopted for 2011. It repeated the budget because Kirk Summa auditors and secretary-treasurer Beth Seymour are still working to organize borough finances and enter the figures into a new system and, despite months of meetings, council could not work through the mess to create a new budget.
"It has been a struggle, it has been a very difficult year," said president Rose Mary Cannon.
She said council has a lot of intense work to do, given the "short window of opportunity" it has to develop a 2012 budget. The spending plan must be in place by Feb. 15, according to state law.
Cannon urged council members to attend the budget meetings. Council's attempts to craft a 2012 budget were hampered by lack of attendance.
On Wednesday, council members Andrew Snyder and Danielle Smith absent, and new councilwoman Samantha Yasson was sworn in. Mayor Ron Hood attended his first meeting since July, when he announced he would no longer be present at council meetings due to the time wasted by council members' sniping at each other.
The borough's finances have been a mess for a couple of years now, disorganized, with payments not being deposited, bills not being paid and records in disarray.
Councilman Tommy Vadyak pointed out the situation has nothing to do with Seymour, who was only hired in August.
Councilwoman Mary Kruczek has been working with the auditors and Seymour, and council on Wednesday gave her permission to take home the sanitation records in order to organize them. She said the records are show overpayments and underpayments, payments not deposited, and some documents are missing entirely.
Last month, borough businessman Bob Silver, who is volunteering in the office to help organize the finances, said the sewer transmission fund was in a similar state of disarray.
Kruczek doubted council could craft a new spending plan, given the current situation.
"The system is not in proper order to adopt a budget," she said.
On Dec. 28, council adopted the 2011 budget again in order to comply with state law, which requires a spending plan be in place by Dec. 31. Sharp words were exchanged among council members at that meeting.
In a related matter, Councilman Tommy Vadyak moved, with Cannon, Kruczek and Yasson supporting and Lenny Kovach opposing, to have solicitor Michael Greek review bills not related to the negotiations for a new contract with Police Chief John Turcmanovich.
Vadyak said he wants to in order to recoup money spent by former council president Adam Webber for seeking legal advice from outside lawyers on matters not related to the contract. The bills, Vadyak said, were not approved by council. They include guidance on standard operating procedures and questions about the personal liability of council members.
"These are bills that were incurred without council's approval," he said.
Kovach said he was casting the no vote because he didn't know anything about the bills.
The bargaining has been going for two years, Turcmanovich said. So far, the cost of fighting Turcmanovich's request for a $1,500 raise has cost the borough $11,000, Vadyak said.
A new contract has yet to be signed.
Council also, with Kovach opposed, agreed to outsource its payroll operations to the Altony company of Weatherly. In October, the company submitted a proposal to handle the payroll at a base cost of $35, with a $1.50 cost per check and $15 for timecard calculation. The company charges $50 for quarterly tax filing.
In other matters, council agreed to use Community Development Block Grant money to make improvements to Cortright Street for $35,730 and to East Bertsch Street for $110,000. The work will likely start in early summer, Kovach said.
The borough is reaching the end of its CDBG eligibility because the U.S. Census showed the population had dropped to under 4,000. Borough officials dispute that figure and vow to do a recount.
Also, the borough office, above the American Fire Co. on East Patterson Street, is closed today in order to prepare for the move Friday to the community center on Ridge Street. The relocated offices are expected to be open for business on Monday.
Council also agreed to borrow $100,000 in the form of a tax anticipation loan, at a rate of 2.68 percent, from M&T Bank.
Also, council approved a designated parking space for Donna Valent, owner of Lansford Title and Tags, on Chestnut Street, between Patterson and Bertsch streets.