Pass the (road) salt: Coal Township buys material for Shamokin; safety, finances cited for lending hand
SHAMOKIN - Coal Township officials helped their neighbors in Shamokin recently by paying for a load of road salt.
The city was low on material and can't get any credit with road salt distributors, Councilman Charlie Verano, head of the street department, said Monday.
"(We) tried to get salt from just about everywhere, but they wouldn't give it to us," Verano said.
"We're having a hard time purchasing stuff due to the unfunded debt and we cannot get credit," he said, referencing the estimated $800,000 in unpaid bills that piled up at the end of 2013 for which city council continues to pursue a loan to pay off.
Mayor William D. Milbrand turned to township commissioner Chairman Craig Fetterman for help, and the township agreed to pay the bill until Shamokin can come up with the money.
Fetterman was wary of speaking about the situation, noting negativity likely to come from the city's critics and perhaps from the township as well. But he said safety is most important, and that many township motorists, not to mention school buses and emergency vehicles, drive through the city.
"They're our neighbors. Be it as it may, they have some problems. ... I want it to be as safe as possible for everyone," Fetterman said.
None of the officials could say how much road salt was purchased on Shamokin's behalf and at what cost or when it was delivered.
Kevin Richardson, foreman of the Shamokin Street Department, said the city had 85 tons of material to spread, a 50/50 mix of salt and ashes. A full load would be 180 tons, the amount that is usually purchased ahead of the winter season. That didn't happen this year because of the city's finances.
Verano said the city was able to purchase its own anti-skid material through it's liquid fuels fund, which is separate from the cash-strapped general fund.
Upward of 6 inches of snow piled up Monday in Shamokin.
About 3/4 of the material remains following the snowstorm, Richardson said. The road crew was conservative in its use because another storm is forecast to begin late tonight into Wednesday. National Weather Service is predicting another 6 inches, and yet another storm is forecast for the weekend.
Council members have been aware of the issue with purchasing winter weather material; Verano noted it at prior meetings.
The city's money problems are well-documented - massive 2014 budget deficit, furloughs, unpaid bills - and while the new city council has begun taking steps to dig Shamokin out of debt, better days are far off.
Verano said the "leftover mess" isn't going to go away overnight.
"We're working very hard. Right now, that is our biggest problem. Until we can get rid of that unfunded debt and get the loan, it's killing us," he said.
Verano and Milbrand speculated the adoption of a revised budget, expected Thursday, could help convince a lender to loan Shamokin the money to cover the unfunded debt.
Milbrand said the outcome of contract negotiations with the police union could also come into play.
The mayor said it will take the rest of 2014 and perhaps all of 2015 to get Shamokin's finances in a better state, but that city officials have no other choice.
Shamokin is enrolled in the Department of Community and Economic Development's Early Intervention program, and Milbrand said state officials are pleased with the city's efforts so far.
"We're certainly not in good shape yet, but I think by the end of this year we'll be a lot better off," Milbrand said.