New Shamokin council has long list of challenges
SHAMOKIN - The city's five newest elected officials stood shoulder to shoulder Monday, when Magisterial District Judge John Gembic III presided over a swearing-in ceremony.
They took their oaths in unison.
Gembic congratulated them and then, perhaps only half-jokingly, said "my condolences."
The new iteration of city council has many challenges on the horizon.
The first could be finding a way to recall at least the two full-time police officers scheduled for furlough. They, along with two part-time special officers and a street department employee, were laid off, casualties of spending cuts the former council deemed necessary, in part, to erase a $616,000-plus deficit and balance the 2014 budget at more than $2.5 million.
There's also the issue of a new police department union contract, the most expensive and many believe the most important public service provided. It expired Dec. 31, and an arbitration hearing is expected before spring; however, negotiations can occur up to that point. There will be another contract to negotiate, too, when the street department union's contract expires at year's end.
While a county judge approved an $800,000 emergency loan to cover the city's unpaid bills from 2013, described in legal terms as "unfunded debt," there's been no official word from City Hall that either the state Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED) or a lending institution has plans to approve the loan.
Still there's more: a trio of grant projects - Shamokin Creek channel restoration, "99 steps" restoration, Claude Kehler park expansion; the code officer is seeking a new ordinance for rental property inspections, and obligations for the city's enrollment in DCED's Early Intervention program.
Some of these issues were expected by the incoming officials, some came as a surprise. In the case of the furloughs, it brought public scorn and scrutiny unseen in a long while.
In spite of it all, Councilman Charlie Verano, elected in November, said he feels no more nervous now than he did when he announced his candidacy last year. He admitted, though, the circumstances have caused him to change his goals.
Verano campaigned on blight remediation, addressing economic issues in the downtown and focusing on keeping municipal finances in check. It seems the last is all he and the rest of council may be able to concentrate on in his first year.
"We must get the finances in order. My goal is to see that what happened this past December doesn't happen again," Verano said.
At the outset of the reorganization meeting, Milbrand read from a 116-year-old message (see separate story). Shamokin was a borough at the time, and Malcolm C. Farrow was its chief burgess, a position much like the mayor.
Farrow wrote on March 7, 1898, that "Let us, for the good of our city and the honor of ourselves, so legislate that the greater good may come to the greater number, banish all favoritism and faithfully labor in unison, in peace and in harmony for the welfare and advancement of our entire community."
Milbrand said the message still applies.
"We're in some difficult times, but I think with some good, strong leadership, which we have now, we can come out of it," he said.