Shamokin officials: Act 47 is not a death knell
SHAMOKIN - Acceptance into a state program for financially distressed cities would not be the death knell for the city, according to its mayor and director of accounts and finance.
It will, they say, help put Shamokin on the path to fiscal solvency.
"I'm actually encouraged, and that might not sound like a normal reaction when you say Act 47," Councilman David Kinder, the finance director, said of the recommendation by the city's financial advisors that council members apply for an Act 47 designation.
"Act 47 is misrepresented and has been misrepresented as bankruptcy taking place when in essence Act 47 is a recovery plan," he said.
"The brightest spot," said Mayor William D. Milbrand, "is the interest-free loan to get us out of the hole."
That "hole" is more than $811,000 deep, filled with bills that accrued by the end of 2013. Three banks declined lending Shamokin the money to pay off the invoices, but such a loan would have come with an interest rate.
"We still cannot let our guard down, we still have to be diligent in what we're doing," Milbrand said.
Milbrand said the city would also be "first in line" for grants to help improve Shamokin, and Kinder added that funding would also be available to pay an advisor to oversee the financial strategy created by city council with the advice of financial advisors and DCED officials.
Funding wouldn't be available for at least two months from the date of acceptance, Milbrand said.
Kinder and Milbrand met with financial advisors and officials from state Department of Community and Economic Development for about four hours Thursday to review the findings in a financial report on Shamokin. See accompanying story.
The report, turned over to city hall April 10, outlines in depth financial failings on the city's part and what council members can do to take corrective action.
Milbrand said if council votes during a special meeting April 28 to pursue Act 47 designation, it would be a "noble" and "wise" decision. But he admits wounded pride in having to seek it out, saying the current council had the wherewithal to sort out Shamokin's finances but simply ran out of time after bringing on new members in January.
"We've got to stop the bleeding now and we don't have any time to wait," Milbrand said. "We have no other choice, the city cannot go bankrupt, the state will not let us go bankrupt."
Kinder said if the city is successful in implementing its plan, it could potentially move out of Act 47 in two to five years.
But there are 20 Pennsylvania municipalities currently enrolled in the program, almost half of which have been involved for two decades or more. Seven municipalities have moved out of the program since 1993.
Milbrand was optimistic, saying city officials would work to move quickly out of Act 47. Kinder said city council must do whatever it takes, for however long, to fix Shamokin's finances.
"There's a lot of responsibility on council but we now have a road map which we are going to follow. It's something the taxpayers will support us on once they see the details," Kinder said.
"We're willing to make the hard decisions, and there are going to be hard decisions. Things have to change or we're basically bankrupt."