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Tough decisions

Published November 16. 2010 05:00PM

During a budget meeting in Summit Hill last night, the borough council discussed some potential measures it is considering to hold a tax increase in the borough to one mill.

Among them are:

• Remove several street lights. It's not definite which lights would be removed, but there are blocks that have more lighting than others, council said. In addition, some lights from Ginder Field and in the vicinity of the fire company might be eliminated. Taking away 10 lights will save more than $2,000 a year.

"We will try to save $10,000 on street lights," said councilman John O'Gurek.

• Eliminate annual contributions of $4,000 to the fire department, $2,500 to the Recreation Commission, and $500 to the Shade Tree Commission.

• There also was discussion about possibly eliminating a full-time police officer or borough worker, although this wasn't an immediate calculation factor in the budgetary analysis.

Borough council members agreed there are two major components negatively impacting this year's budget.

Council President Joe Weber said insurance benefits increased by over $20,000 for the year 2011, jumping from $99,000 to $119,674.32.

In 2006, the borough paid $80,409.12 in health insurance premiums for its employees.

The other thing impacting the budget is the repayment of loans for the borough's $3.5 million building project. Interest and principal on a bond issue amounts to $158,210, while another loan on the project equals more than $35,000.

Weber said not all is attributed to the fact that the state hasn't given the borough a $1.25 million grant that was promised. He said there were major cost over-runs which made the cost of the project higher than anticipated. However, receiving the grant would amount to a half-mill relief on taxes.

The state reportedly hasn't paid the grant because one of the contractors allegedly didn't pay prevailing wages. That contractor and the borough are currently locked in civil suits. The contractor has filed a suit against the borough in Carbon County Court and the borough has filed a counter-suit.

Council members stressed that nothing is cemented on the budget. Another budget planning session is scheduled for 7 p.m. Monday, Nov. 22, in the borough hall.

Regarding the contributions to the fire company, councilman Kenneth Boyd said he's opposed to eliminating this.

"I think they should get the money," he said, adding that possibly the council could talk to fire company officers to see if they could reduce the amount of the annual donation.

O'Gurek countered, "We're here for the people. Other towns give their fire companies a lot less."

He added, "This is the last thing I want to cut. But we're paying every other expense right down to the liquor license."

Borough resident Joe Barone supported the council's recommendation on the fire company expense stating, "We're going through rough economic times. I feel we have to cut it back this year."

Kira Michalik, borough treasurer, said an ordinance currently specifies a $500 payment to the Shade Tree Commission. O'Gurek urged that the ordinance be changed.

A suggestion by O'Gurek to bring in some additional funds is to begin charging contractor fees. He said a lot of contractors are coming into the borough doing roofing and siding.

He also recommended that the borough look into consolidating loans on a police cruiser and dump truck as a possible way to reduce the amount of interest being paid.

Michalik said she met with tax collector Alice Kane, who told her that there is still $60,000 to $64,000 in real estate taxes for the current year which haven't been collected.

Councilman Michael Kokinda said of the overall situation, "Between insurance going up and $40,000 paying for a state grant we didn't get, we're screwed."

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