KULPMONT - Resident Walter Lutz has been an outspoken critic regarding a potential tax increase as a result of Kulpmont Borough Council's plans to build a new borough hall.

That discussion continued at Tuesday's council meeting at which a $2,142,825 budget for 2013 was passed unanimously.

The spending plan includes a $1.5 million increase in order to reflect a construction loan from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) for the new building which will get them out of their current home, the former Wilson Grade School.

Borough officials previously estimated it would cost $750,000 to repair the building plus heating costs.

During the public comment section, Lutz asked council to see the loan application submitted to the USDA and questioned if the $750,000 in estimates came from independent, third-party sources. Council responded that those figures came from verbal quotes from the borough's engineering firm.

"Have all the alternatives been exhausted at this point?" Lutz asked. "A million and a half dollars is a lot of money."

"We are hoping it doesn't cost that amount," council president Bruno Varano said, adding he thought council has done their best to this point.

Lutz informed council of a petition he created asking, "Should Kulpmont Borough borrow money and/or raise taxes in order to build a new borough building?" He challenged Varano and borough council to be the first to sign the petition, but Varano refused.

"Think about what you are doing to the elderly population here, who are on fixed incomes," Lutz said. "I am one of those people," Varano joked.

"Then you should be agreeing with me," Lutz answered. "My contention is that more work should be done."

Following his comments, Mayor Myron Turlis addressed Lutz, taking him to task on comments he made in a Dec. 9 letter to the editor.

"Councilmen Bruno Varano (president), Winhofer, Deitrick and now Mayor Myron Turlis have been/were on the council long enough that they could have done something about the needed repairs on the current borough hall. Why didn't they do something?" Lutz wrote.

"As public officials, we expect to be criticized and sometimes we deserved to be criticized," Turlis said. "Your recent article was totally inaccurate. Over the last few years, there was probably $150,000 to $200,000 on repairs spent on this building."

"It appears that $750,000 needed to be spent on the building," Lutz retorted.

Turlis then rattled off a list of repairs already done, including masonry work, two rubber roofs, a new boiler at a cost of $50,000, bathrooms brought up to handicapped code and a new stair chair lift.

"There comes a point in time when you either outgrow the facility you are in, or the facility you are in becomes too big for what you need," The mayor said. "At this point, this facility is too big and we can no longer afford to maintain it."

In other business, council announced that the borough playground will close in a few days for the winter months, with a tentative reopening date of March 1, weather permitting.

The Shamokin Rotary Club Santa Sleigh will visit Kulpmont Town Park from 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday, and there will be free hot dogs and hot chocolate available. Mayor Myron Turlis also commended the Kulpmont Knights of Columbus for a successful wine festival in October, saying the event was very well run and a great day for Kulpmont.

The next borough surplus food distribution will be held from 8 a.m. to noon on Thursday, Dec, 20 at the borough garage, and recycling will be held on Wednesday, Jan. 2 instead of the first Tuesday of the month, which is a holiday.