SHAMOKIN - The city's debt is on the rise and the tax needed to pay it off is expected to follow suit, according to a preliminary tax levy adopted Monday by city council.

A preliminary 2014 tax levy adopted by city council on Monday totals 47.35 mills - 30 mills for real estate, 13.5 for debt service, 0.75 for the public library, 3 for recreation, 0.1 for the shade tree tax.

That's up from the 2013 total levy of 44.918 mills.

Each mill is equivalent to $1. Under the proposed 2014 levy, property owners would pay $47.35 for each $1,000 of assessed value of their properties, or $2.432 more per mill than in 2013. If a property is assessed at $20,000, an additional $48.64 would be added to the 2014 tax bill if the levy is adopted as is.

The increase of 2.432 mills is proposed to be added to the debt service tax, and another 4.208 mills shifted from the recreation tax. At 13.5 mills, debt service ballooned dramatically from the 2013 levy of 6.86 mills in part to account for a proposed $800,000 loan to cover outstanding bills that have yet to be paid this year.

The loan must first be approved by a county judge as part of the city's enrollment in the Department of Community and Economic Development's Early Intervention Program for financially distressed municipalities. A hearing is scheduled for 9:15 a.m. Wednesday before Judge Charles H. Saylor.

A judge will also decide whether or not to grant an exception for the sixth consecutive year allowing the city to tax real estate at 30 mills, 5 mills higher than the maximum allowed by law. That hearing is scheduled for 2:30 p.m. Dec. 19.

Councilmen William Milbrand and William Strausser and Mayor George Rozinskie Jr. voted to approve the first reading of the tax levy ordinance. Councilman Michael Snyder voted in opposition. Councilman R. Craig Rhoades was absent.

The proposed tax levy can be amended prior to final adoption, which is expected to occur during a special council meeting at 6 p.m. Dec. 23. A vote on the final version of the 2014 budget also is expected that night. The meeting was rescheduled by council on Monday. It had originally been set for Dec. 30.

A Tax and Revenue Anticipation Note (TRAN) totalling $350,000 at 3.25 percent interest was approved by a 4-0 council vote. That's also up from the 2013 loan of $275,000, which Strausser said after Monday's meeting is directly related to the number of bills left unpaid this year.

A TRAN is not an uncommon loan for municipalities. Like Shamokin, many municipalities take the loan to cover first-quarter expenses prior to receiving tax money in the spring.

A final payment of $22,976 remains due on the city's 2013 TRAN, according to city Controller Gary Haddock.

In other business

Council amended the city's employee handbook to prevent the treasurer and deputy treasurer from using vacation days during peak tax collection periods. It would not effect the use of personal days. The move was made on the recommendation of Treasurer Brenda Scandle.

City council's 2014 monthly meeting schedule was adopted almost unchanged from the 2013 schedule. Workshops will be held at 6 p.m. on the first Wednesday of each month and monthly meetings at 7 p.m. on the second Monday of each month. The one change is January, when the workshop will be held at 6 p.m. Jan. 8 (the second Wednesday). That's due to a reorganization meeting to be held at 10 a.m. Jan. 6. The regular meeting is still scheduled for 7 p.m. Jan. 13, the second Monday.

Landlord's request

Barry Getchey urged city council to remove Raymond G. Splane from the Shamokin Housing Authority board, and to also remove Ron Miller as its executive director. He's made the request of council prior, including in May 2012 as previously reported.

The Shamokin landlord has accused the authority of withholding more than $10,000 in federal rental assistance funds between November 2011 and January 2012. However, the authority claims Getchey violated his Housing and Urban Development contact by not having a functioning heating system in September and October 2011 and not remediating a mold problem and other safety issues in his North Sixth Street apartment building.

While the city appoints members to the authority, the board is an autonomous governing body. A decision to remove a board member or the executive director must be made by the housing authority board itself, Strausser said.

Getchey has frequently clashed with Splane and Miller, even picketing outside the housing authority office by himself on several occasions. In August he pleaded no contest to obstructing the administration of the law in official and political matters after offering what he called a $300 "thank you gift" to Splane for help getting the HUD money. He was ordered to pay a $300 fine.

Getchey also asked city council to vote to require reporters from The News-Item to record meetings, saying not everything that is said at public meetings is reported in the newspaper. Strausser and Rozinskie both said city council has no authority to do so.