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Budget delay

  • CHRIS PARKER/TIMES NEWS Lansford borough council president Adam Webber, left, and Councilwoman Rose Mary Cannon, foreground, talk about the 2012 budget. Secretary-treasurer Beth Seymour is in the background.
    CHRIS PARKER/TIMES NEWS Lansford borough council president Adam Webber, left, and Councilwoman Rose Mary Cannon, foreground, talk about the 2012 budget. Secretary-treasurer Beth Seymour is in the background.
Published December 01. 2011 05:01PM

For the third time in 10 days, Lansford council has failed to gather enough members to hold a public meeting, and the lack of a quorum is threatening to stall an already-delayed budget process.

By law, at least four of the seven members must be present to have a quorum. But only two council members, Rose Mary Cannon and Tommy Vadyak, showed up for a Nov. 21 budget meeting. A regular meeting on Nov. 24 drew only Cannon, Vadyak and President Adam Webber.

On Wednesday, only Webber, Cannon and councilwoman Mary Kruczek showed up for another budget meeting.

Council members Andrew Snyder, Danielle Smith and Lenny Kovach were absent from all three meetings.

Wednesday's budget meeting was to be the second for the financially-troubled borough, both of which were canceled for lack of a quorum. Budget meetings are scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Monday, Dec. 5, and Thursday, Dec. 8, both to be held in the borough offices above the American Fire Co. No. 1 on East Patterson Street.

Typically, Lansford starts budget talks in September, but Webber said that didn't happen this year because the finances were in too much disarray to even begin the process.

In Pennsylvania, boroughs must have final budgets in place by Dec. 31, according to the state Department of Community and Economic Development. The spending plans must be published for seven days in a general circulation newspaper, and on display for the public for 10 days before final adoption.

If a final budget is not adopted by Dec. 31, the borough would be unable to collect taxes or spend money - and that includes money to pay its employees.

The budget planning is complicated this year. Vadyak, whom secretary-treasurer Beth Seymour said was at the borough office earlier in the day Wednesday, said in an email message to the TIMES NEWS that the borough to date faces $171,000 in outstanding bills in addition to a $150,000 outstanding tax anticipation loan.

On Wednesday, Webber waited for 15 minutes before canceling the meeting. Kruczek waited another 15 minutes, then left because of the lack of a quorum. Cannon and Webber stayed, along with Seymour, to "talk informally" about the spending plan.

The two council members debated the accuracy of the budget pages. Among the disputes were whether or not the Recreation Account was overdrawn; Webber thought there was money left, but Cannon was convinced it was depleted.

Cannon pointed out several errors and omissions in the budget and questioned the accuracy of others. She also asked how much each mill of property tax levy was expected to generate in 2012. Webber said he had not yet calculated that.

Cannon explained that Carbon County does those calculations, and that they had been sent to the borough two weeks ago. However, the letter from the county could not be found, so as of last night, the borough did not know how much tax revenue to expect.

The county Tax Assessment office early Thursday said each mill could be expected to generate $34,085 in revenue for the borough in 2012. That's up slightly from this year, when a mill generated $33,880.

Cannon and Webber also disagreed about whether police were putting in too much overtime. Webber said there was $40,205 of overtime, mostly in the police department. Cannon said the budget sheets showed police salaries from chief to part-timers, were all within the budget amounts set last year.

A quick glance at the borough budget figures indicates several areas where overspending may have occurred. They include overages of $45,076 for the municipal pension fund; $111,229 in transfers from the sewer account to the general fund; $8,460 for professional services; $15,117 for engineering; and $12,307 for repairs and maintenance.

However, Cannon questioned the accuracy of some of the figures.

Adding to the difficulty, an auditor for Kirk Summa who has been working to straighten out the borough's financial mess has changed the accounting method to a more widely accepted state standard. The timing of that, Cannon said, is creating confusion. The change should have been made at the start of the new year. Webber countered that the change makes it easier for the auditor to fix the problems and for other agencies to quickly grasp budget details.

"How the heck can we do a budget under these circumstances," Cannon said.

The 2011 budget, which anticipated $1,575,873 in revenue and $1,578,161 in expenses, increased the property tax to 32.47 mills, up from last year's 29.41 mills. That meant the owner of a property assessed at $25,000 paid $811.75 in real estate tax this year - $76.50 more than last year.

Tax collector Danny Wynn on Wednesday told officials he believes the $10 per capita tax should be eliminated as it is difficult and costly to collect.

The focus veered from the budget at one point, when Cannon took Webber to task for hampering the planned move of mold-infested borough offices to the community center on Ridge Street. She said she learned that Webber and Kovach were talking about the move, which Kovach also has been ambivalent about, at the community center.

Webber acknowledged not being in favor of the move, but said that although he "didn't approve of it, I didn't say I wouldn't help with it."

Cannon said she would donate the stipend she receives (but has not taken so far this year) for her council position to help offset costs of setting up an office in the community center.

The matter surfaced when Cannon became ill due to the dust in the meeting room.

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