No tax hike expected despite deficit in the general fund
The good news for the residents of Tamaqua is that the borough's preliminary budget does not contain a tax increase for 2012. The bad news is that the general fund is $229,000 in the red. "Obviously, that is not sustainable," said council president Micah Gursky. "We're not happy with the big red number, but we have some time before the end of the year to work on it."
"We're going to need to take a look at this line by line and see where we can cut," said Councilman Tom Cara. Gursky suggested requesting a meeting with the uniformed and non-uniformed unions to discuss ways to meet the budget shortage. "Our biggest expense is our staff and our staff costs," said Gursky. "Maybe we have a sitdown to work together to close that budget gap."
Next year's anticipated expenditures are $12,350,334. Borough manager Kevin Steigerwalt explained that this number is significantly higher due to the approximately $4million being spent on the Owl Creek Dam renovations.
In other business, council discussed the handicap parking policy extensively. Councilman David Mace made a motion to rescind the new policy, which includes having applicants pay a fee to apply and then another fee to install the signage. Under this policy, the space becomes the "property" of the applicant and other cars with handicap placards are prohibited from parking there. Under the old policy, applicants could apply for a space; however, the space was available to anyone who had the proper placards. There were also no fees associated with policy. "This new policy is an enforcement nightmare and has caused a lot of hard feelings between neighbors," said Gursky.
Councilman Dan Evans, the chair of the parking and traffic committee, said that the changes were enacted under the previous chair Steve Tertel and he was not familiar with the reasoning behind them. He did suggest reviewing the policy. "We're an aging community and it's going to become more and more of a problem." Mace rescinded his original motion and asked that the parking and traffic committee review the policy and take a look at the issues created under the new policy. Councilman Ken Smulligan added that he is not happy with the taxpayers footing the $120 bill for installing the signs.
Council also discussed the possibility of painting lines at corners to prohibit parking within 15 feet of stop signs. "That was put together a few years ago," said Mayor Christian Morrison, "and council was not interested in enforcing that. Our officers will be happy to enforce it, they just need to know that they have council's support." Councilman Brian Connely said that he is not suggesting the officers go out with tape measures, however "there are instances where it is downright blatant." Connely cited issues with fire and emergency vehicles moving safely through the streets.
The new pedestrian crossing signs that have been appearing around town raised concerns for several council members, who questioned who is responsible for moving the signs when there is significant snowfall. Morrison said that the police department is currently working with civilians to "adopt" the signs. "We'll have them put them out and bring them in."
Steigerwalt informed council that the rehabilitation project at the Owl Creek Dam will be starting soon, possibly even this week. "They will be busy during the winter doing work there," he said. One of the first projects will be to remove the uptake tower, which has sentimental value to many of the residents. Steigerwalt said that it would cost somewhere between $675,000 and $900,000 to salvage the tower, an expense that council could not justify incurring. Steigerwalt said that even to remove and salvage part of the tower would cost a significant amount of money.
Steigerwalt said that the installation of 400 feet of sewer main along South Railroad Street has been completed, which allows for additional wildcat sewers to connect to the system. There are still 37 properties needing to be connected. Property owner Anna Brose appealed to council once again to help her. Brose has not been able to find a contractor willing to work on her property. "They tell you you're crazy," she said. Brose said that the one estimate that she has received for the work exceeds what she can afford. "What do I do," she asked. "Do I take a pickax out and start digging this on my own? It's not that I don't want to do it. I can't afford to do it." Gursky said that eventually, citations will be issued to property owners who are not connected.
Resident Tony Rodrigue asked council if there were funds in the water authority budget for exploration and repair for the pisometers at Still Creek Dam. Rodrigue indicated that there may be issues with water flow under the breast of the dam, but the current equipment is damaged and may not be reading correctly.
Council also voted to rescind the Megan's Law local ordinance, which prohibits sexually violent predators from living within so many feet of places like schools or daycare centers. According to solicitor Michael Greek, the ordinance that Tamaqua's was based on was recently struck down by the courts as being unconstitutional. "There's not much you else you can do," he said.