Shamokin's unpaid bills total $811,000
SHAMOKIN - The total cost of outstanding bills that had gone unpaid by the city in 2013 has been tallied.
Shamokin is on the hook for $811,492.07, a staggering amount even considering that city officials had been estimating the total at $800,000 since late last year.
Two standard manila office folders sit atop a filing cabinet in the city clerk's office, but inches-thick piles of paper invoices from dozens of vendors are too big to fit inside them.
There are bills from law firms, an assessor, insurance companies, rock salt distributor, hardware store, automotive centers, cleaning services and a great many more. Utility companies are represented, too: natural gas, water, electric, sewer, communications.
The last of the bills were input into the city's accounting software in late March, a task that began in January under the current administration after they were collected from city hall, including from inside the dormant office of former city clerk Steve Bartos, who went on medical leave in mid-November.
All bills accrued in 2014 are up to date, according to city officials. That includes costs for services this year from the utility companies, but those bills are also marked for past dues.
Apart from basic accounting of owed expenditures, it was necessary to input the bills to show lending firms a hard figure in the pursuit of a loan to pay off the debt.
The city had been negotiating with Miners Bank, of Schuylkill County, for a loan to cover the unpaid bills, referred to as "unfunded debt."
Susquehanna Bank, Shamokin, was also considered but decided against loaning the money, according to Mayor William D. Milbrand.
The current city council took office in early January and has been working with state Department of Community and Economic Development and private-sector financial advisers on securing the financing. It was among many issues - employee furloughs, budget revisions, expired police union contract - inherited by the council.
Milbrand said the three months they've had to work on it is not enough time.
"I would say a loan of this magnitude at the very minimum would take six months," he said.
Milbrand believes that the current council - himself and council members Barbara Moyer, David Kinder, R. Craig Rhoades and Charlie Verano - can competently manage Shamokin's finances if a loan is granted.
He fears that without the loan that Shamokin could be labeled by the state a financially distressed community under Act 47. That designation allows the state potentially expansive oversight over the city's attempt at fiscal recovery, including following a state-approved plan and perhaps appointing an adviser to guide financial decision-making. It could also open up the city to changes in existing collective bargaining agreements and potential reduction in staffing, temporary or permanent.