Shamokin officer asks when budget will be revisited
SHAMOKIN - A city police officer asked council for a time line on revisiting the 2013 budget, which could reinstate two furloughed police officers.
Patrolman Nate Rhodes and Cpl. Jarrod Scandle were laid off beginning Monday. Patrolman Shane Mowery, representing the officers on behalf of the police union, sought information on when further discussion would be had.
"Do we have a time frame on when they might return, or at least on when the budget will be opened and discussed?" he asked during Monday's monthly meeting of city council.
Mayor William D. Milbrand said a special meeting will be held next week, perhaps as early as Monday, but a date has not yet been set.
"We have a few things to try and tweak in there yet and hopefully everything will be resolved," Milbrand said.
Rhodes and Scandle along with special officers Norm Lukoskie and Robert Searls and Ronald Kerstetter, a street department laborer, were all scheduled for furlough in an attempt to shed a $616,000-plus deficit.
Other personnel moves included reducing the hours of code office secretary Kelly Seroski and the deputy treasurer, which is currently a vacant position, to part-time status with no benefits, and eliminating all medical and related benefits for members of city council, city controller and the city solicitor.
The budget was balanced at more than $2.5 million but had long been expected to be revisited by the new council that took office Jan. 6. Two Northumberland County finance employees along with financial consultant Stevens and Lee have since been working with city officials on budget figures, Milbrand said. City council has until Feb. 15 to make any changes.
The four police department employees were laid off Monday. It's not clear if Kerstetter has been furloughed. Kerstetter and Rhodes both filed grievances through their respective unions. Scandle wouldn't comment when asked if he had also.
Hundreds of area residents turned out in December in opposition to the planned furloughs. There were more than two dozen people in attendance Monday. A handful of city residents spoke in support of the officers and urged council to take other measures to meet its budget obligations and return the officers to the police force.
"I hope we leave no stone unturned because we need these guys," said Gene Bellis, of North Seventh Street, who added that he and others remain interested in a community crime watch.
Police Chief Edward Griffiths has previously said he intends to restart a dormant crime watch this spring.
Shannon Quinn, of South Market Street, told council members that cutting the police force is not a solution.
"That should be the last thing to go," Quinn said.
"That was hopefully a short-term solution to give us a little opportunity to see where else we can make cuts," Milbrand said. "There isn't much else to get rid of, I'll be honest with you."
Robert Gilligbauer, of South Rock Street, a city mechanic who sought election to city council in 2013, suggested council look into starting up a city recycling program.
He said the revenues reported by the Coal Township Recycling Center show that money can be made, and he said little startup money outside the cost for a bailer and perhaps a forklift would be needed.
Gilligbauer volunteered to introduce the city to brokers who would likely pay 80 percent up front for recyclable material. The other 20 percent would come after the material was weighed and processed.
Councilman R. Craig Rhoades, public safety director, said city residents drop recyclable material in bins behind Mill Road Square at Franklin and Water streets. However, that material is taken to the Coal Township center.
The city does get credit with the state for tonnage collected, but Coal Township sells the material.
Rhoades said an agreement is in place to take brush and limbs to the township facility in exchange for the other recyclable material. He said that agreement should be reviewed and that further consideration be given to Gilligbauer's suggestion.
Robert Getchey, a Coal Township resident and a member of Shamokin Area School Board, said council should research whether it can operate a raffle to help with its budget woes. He pointed to Our Lady of Lourdes Regional School and its longtime practice of running a 80/20 raffle. He suggested that perhaps such a raffle could be done through a city fire company, which are non-profit entities.