Shamokin police officers want state audit of city finances
SHAMOKIN - The city's police officers are requesting the state attorney general's office conduct a forensic analysis of Shamokin's finances.
All 10 of the subordinate full-time police officers signed an undated letter addressed to their boss, Police Chief Edward Griffiths, asking that he file a "formal complaint" with Northumberland County District Attorney Anthony Rosini in requesting a state investigation.
Griffiths said Wednesday he spoke with Rosini and will meet with him in person to discuss the matter. He said the police department has a duty to protect Shamokin's taxpayers.
"I've been getting pressure," he said of the public. "People are stopping me on the streets, asking 'Hey, what's going on (with the city's finances)?"
Mayor William D. Milbrand responded Wednesday, saying he's open to a discussion with other council members on commissioning a forensic audit.
"If the rest of the council feels this is necessary ... by all means we'll proceed with it," he said.
A forensic audit would be discussed during council's May 7 workshop session, he added.
The idea has already been broached with officials of the state Department of Economic and Community Development (DCED), Milbrand said. Should anything turn up in the city's annual audit over the summer, he said "that would warrant a forensic audit."
Shamokin is enrolled in DCED's Early Intervention Program. The state agency is seeking to help the city create shortterm and longterm plans to manage it's outstanding debt and stay out of bankruptcy.
The city has worked with DCED and private sector financial advisors towards securing a loan to cover $811,492.07 in unpaid bills that piled up by the end of 2013. Two banks, Susquehanna Bank and Miner's Bank, have since turned down the city and there are currently no other lenders in discussions with the city. New lenders, however, are being sought.
Coming to a head
Cpl. Jarrod Scandle raised the topic of a forensic audit during Monday's council meeting, announcing he had written the letter and obtained the signatures of fellow officers.
During his seven years with the police department, Scandle said the city has always entered a new year with up to $250,000 in debt carried over from the previous year.
It's been covered with a start-of-year loan, called a Tax Revenue Anticipation Note (TRAN), the city takes annually. This year's TRAN is $350,000; however, acting on the advice of DCED, city council is only paying 2014 invoices with that funding.
Scandle told council members he's "not buying" the suggestion the unpaid bills accumulated because of an annual rollover of debt.
"Nobody has taken responsibility or accountability for why we're $800,000 in debt," Scandle said during the meeting. "This is the worst year it's ever been. ... Something is wrong here."
Milbrand attempted to address Scandle's concern. "It finally came to a head, Jarrod, it's been building and building," he said.
"The reason why it is like this is going to come to a head," Scandle replied.
Scandle addressed other police department issues Monday, and Milbrand sought to address them publicly Wednesday.
The corporal had said an unpaid bill with an equipment supply company prevented two officers from obtaining bullet-proof vests. He also said three police vehicles are in disrepair, which hinders some police activity, including conducting a special "speed detail" on Route 61 to fulfill a state safe driving grant.
Milbrand provided an invoice Wednesday from Atlantic Tactical showing the city has no outstanding balance with the company - there's actually a $60 credit - and wasn't sure what caused the issue with the vests. Treasurer Brenda Scandle said Wednesday the invoices were paid in 2013.
Under the terms of the Early Intervention Program, DCED recommended city council thin out its vehicle fleet for all departments, not just the police department, Milbrand said. That could mean getting rid of the three vehicles Scandle described as being in disrepair.
"Any unnecessary vehicles should be sold or put out for auction (to reduce insurance and maintenance costs)," he said.
In a city of less than 1 square mile, Milbrand said a seven-vehicle fleet isn't necessary, and a speed detail could be performed by officers who are on duty in between 911 calls.
Also at issue is the as-yet-unpaid holiday bonuses from the second half of 2013 that remain due to all city officers under the terms of a collective bargaining agreement. That agreement is expired and negotiations are ongoing on a new version. Until it's settled, the old terms remain in place. A union grievance was filed Dec. 18.
Milbrand said unpaid holiday pay is among the massive unfunded debt accrued in 2013. Unless payment is absolutely necessary, council will stick to the DCED recommendation that only 2014 invoices be paid while a loan is sought to pay last year's outstanding bills, he said.