Recovery plan to be reviewed tonight in Shamokin
By Eric Scicchitano
SHAMOKIN - City council will meet formally tonight with state officials for the first time since the release of a report that suggested many measures, some drastic, to repair Shamokin's broken finances.
Representatives of the state Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED) along with the city's private financial advisers are expected to review an Early Intervention Plan prepared for city council. It's expected there will be discussions about seeking enrollment in the state's Act 47 program for financially distressed municipalities.
The public work session will be held at 6 p.m. at city hall.
Council members Barbara Moyer and Charlie Verano both said Tuesday that they've reviewed the lengthy plan, and that some of its contents were difficult to read.
"I'll be honest, I picked it up and was sick in the stomach at first. I never envisioned Shamokin would get like this," Verano said. "We've got to make sure that it never happens again."
"When you see it in black and white it really crystallized our situation. I've been struggling to find the right words to say," Moyer said.
The financial advisers' plan recommends city council file with the state to become a designated Act 47 municipality in order to prevent bankruptcy. It says Shamokin meets five of 11 criteria to do so.
Immediate corrective actions are necessary, the financial advisers say.
Among a slew of recommendations, it's suggested that city council bargain with its police and street departments' unions for wage freezes and less costly benefits packages, while also increasing all taxes to the maximum allowable amounts.
Regionalizing police and other services with Coal Township is also recommended, as is selling off all unnecessary equipment and vehicles in all departments, and increasing parking fines and other fees.
Sell what equipment?
Verano oversees the city's public works. He agrees with several of the suggestions for the street department, including tracking all work performed on private property to ensure expenses are recouped in full. He also supports pursuing grant funding, but only with affordable requirements for matching funds.
But there's not a lot of valuable equipment to sell off, he said. All of it is used and much of it is old. Also, he said one department truck is already broken and unlikely to be repaired soon.
"I really can't get rid of any trucks at this point," Verano said.
Collecting more taxes
Verano wants to question DCED officials about how Shamokin, since it was already enrolled in the state's Early Intervention Program since 2008, was able to have its finances fall so far into the red.
He said he has questions, too, about suggestions to maximize all city taxes.
"I don't think we can ask much more of the good people of Shamokin," Verano said.
Verano said greater emphasis must be placed on collecting all taxes, current and delinquent, adding that perhaps the state could assist with financing to outsource collections.
Moyer said she hopes to walk away from tonight's meeting with a greater understanding about Act 47 and what may lay ahead for Shamokin, including on how much input council members will have in creating and following a long-term recovery plan.
The councilwoman oversees parks and public buildings. There was little in the way of suggestions for her department, seeking a partnership with Coal Township for the operation of the public pool among them.
Moyer said she was glad to see that a recommendation was made that an annual budget for the recreation fund be prepared.
Council has already heeded one suggestion on its own: revamping the price schedule at the pool.
Recreational opportunities are important as they add a quality-of-life dimension for city residents, she said. But she understands where council's most attention must be focused.
"I'm also a realist. I understand right now in our situation that we have to really focus on setting our finances straight," Moyer said.
She withheld comment on suggestions in other departments for further evaluation of the plan.