Less than eight weeks before a 2013 budget must be adopted, Lansford council on Tuesday struggled to get enough members to agree to get together to start crafting the spending plan.
Not only are some council members unwilling or unable to participate, the borough's auditors quit last month before much of the information needed to build the budget was documented.
Council President Rose Mary Cannon, during a public meeting dominated by bickering, asked for a show of hands of those willing to meet at 6:30 p.m. Monday to get the budget ball rolling.
Council members Andy Snyder and Samantha Yasson volunteered. Councilman Lenny Kovach also volunteered, but said he may have trouble attending meetings on time because he works in Harrisburg.
Council, recalling last year's poorly-attended budget talks, finally agreed to hold the session as a budget committee meeting. That way, council would not need to have a quorum to discuss business.
Councilwoman Mary Soberick chastised her colleagues for not offering to serve on the committee.
Councilman Tommy Vadyak warned that "a lot of paperwork needs to be done" before a spending plan can be crafted. Vadyak pointed to the police department as a place to make fiscal cuts, saying part-time officers are working too many hours. Cannon disagreed, saying police spending is within budget constraints. Vadyak called that budget "inflated."
Last year, a few frustrated council members attempted to hold budget talks, but were stymied by fragmented, disorganized, and often incomplete financial records. Council members worked with auditors and borough businessman Bob Silver to sort out the mess. Council ended up adopting a $1,506,184 budget that boosted the property tax by 1 mill. The plan brought the tax levy to 33.47 mills. That meant the owner of a home assessed at $25,000 would pay $836.75 in 2012, up from $811.75 in 2011.
Compounding the problems this year, auditors Maillie Falconiero & Co., of Pottstown, Montgomery County, abruptly quit on Oct. 31. Cannon said the only explanation the firm would give was that it was a "professional decision."
Cannon said she would be meeting Friday morning with another company, Hutchinson, Gillahan & Freeh of Quakertown, Bucks County. The firm serves as Lehighton Borough's auditors.
In other financial matters, council heard from Sean McElroy of the USDA Rural Development's Community Facilities Program. McElroy spoke about the program's grants and low-interest loans for municipalities. Council agreed to submit a pre-application to see if the borough could get money for improvements needed at the borough hall on Ridge Street.
In other matters, council:
Ÿ Learned that clerk Jill Seigendall has compiled a booklet of information for residents who have questions about permits, fees and other matters.
Ÿ Vadyak moved to table acceptance of the minutes of the Oct. 10 meeting, saying they included errors, misstatements and omissions. Cannon disagreed, saying tabling was not the way to handle the matter, and that the minutes did not have to be "verbatim."
That sparked a squabble, which Cannon eventually gaveled quiet.
Ÿ Another argument ensued when resident Michael Rego spoke about his dissatisfaction concerning salaries and terms of Lansford-Coaldale Water Authority officials. Rego said the salaries were too high, and the officials should be paid $100 a month and be limited to three-year terms. Vadyak, a longtime critic of the salaries, believes the borough should set compensation; Cannon said the officials decide what their salaries are.
Ÿ Vadyak accused Cannon of ignoring a bid from a borough resident to install a security system that was lower than other bids submitted. Cannon denied having done that.
Ÿ Cannon said another person is needed to help in the borough office, as the secretary-treasurer and clerk are overwhelmed.
Ÿ Cannon said the Cortright Street project is almost finished. She described the project as "ridiculous" in that it involved a handicapped ramp and curbing. The money spent on the project, which would divert storm water away from a bar at Cortright and Ridge streets, could have been better spent elsewhere.
Ÿ Council agreed, with Danielle Smith opposed, to getting prices on hiring a cleaning crew for the borough offices and police department.