SHAMOKIN - A special meeting of city council will be held to discuss the 2014 budget and recommendations made by county and private financial experts, according to the mayor.

The meeting date has not yet been set. It must be held before Feb. 15, which Mayor William D. Milbrand has previously said is the deadline for city council to make any adjustments to the $2.5 million budget approved last month.

Two Northumberland County finance employees have been reviewing the 2014 budget on the city's behalf for at least the past week, and findings and recommendations are expected to be discussed at the meeting, Milbrand said.

Also discussed will be a financial report prepared by the firm Stevens & Lee of Lancaster, which was received by council members Wednesday and not yet fully reviewed. The report was created as part of the city's enrollment in the Early Intervention Program of the state Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED).

One recommendation from both the county and Stevens & Lee, the mayor said, is that all bills received by the city be immediately input into its accounting software, QuickBooks.

That news pleased Controller Gary Haddock, who called it a "thorn in his side" that bills had not been entered into the system in a timely manner under City Clerk Steve Bartos, who has been on medical leave since mid-November. Many outstanding bills from 2013 have been sorted, and he will input them before doing the same for those received in 2014.

"It's probably going to save us a lot of aggravation," Haddock said, adding that it will provide accurate updates on what accounts are owed. He said he will also create monthly reports for city council.

An estimated $800,000 in unpaid bills had accrued in 2013, in part because of past practice of continually rolling over year-end debt. The city is seeking a loan to cover the bills, referred to as "unfunded debt," which Milbrand said is still pending approval. The loan had received court approval and was suggested by DCED, which must also give final approval.

Bills past due

Treasurer Brenda Scandle brought council's attention to some 2014 bills that must be paid, including a $297 sewer bill and a bill from Service Electric for internet and telephone service, which is reportedly past due.

She was advised by Milbrand that funds from the 2014 Tax Revenue Anticipation Note (TRAN) can be used, but he urged that caution also be used with that funding. TRAN loans are sought by some municipalities at the start of a fiscal year to cover normal operating expenses like payroll ahead of the receipt of tax funds in March.

"The TRAN money is not here to get us out of our bind. It's here just to carry us through, to take care of our bills until the tax revenue starts to cycle in," Milbrand said.

He said a bond advisor agreed that a log be kept of expenses paid with TRAN funds. If the city can push off some bills into March and pay them with tax revenue rather than the TRAN loan money, that would be a positive.

As to bills received by the city, Milbrand emphasized that the rules in Pennsylvania's Third Class City Code must be followed for payment. In general, he said they should be opened and marked as received and entered into the accounting software. Bills must then be set aside for approval by individual city council members, each of whom is a department head, before being forwarded to the controller for additional approval. From there, he said, they can be paid.

Transparency

Scandle said that rather than following the system explained by Milbrand, that bills often were kept in the clerk's office before being paid.

When it comes to payroll, Haddock said he's been refused access at times to employee time sheets. He asked the city's new solicitor, Frank Konopka, who confirmed he should have such access.

"I don't understand the layer of secrecy that's been going on in this place. We're dealing with public money, the taxpayer's money. Everybody on council should know what's going on and there's no reason to hide anything from the public," Konopka said.

Should Haddock have any questions about payroll, Milbrand said he must work in cooperation with the city clerk who should provide the requested information.

Councilman Dave Kinder, director of accounts and finance, reiterated comments about fiscal transparency he had previously made after being appointed to council on Monday.

"One of the things I want to make sure we do is that if the press or if a citizen or anyone wants to know on any particular day what's the status of the city finances today, they need to know. That means bills can't sit around," Kinder said. "I'm not going to sign things I haven't seen. It's our responsibility, checks and balances, to make sure we're just not stamping things and they're going out the door."

Milbrand told Kinder that a computer will be set up in the mayor's office that will provide limited access to the city's accounting software that will allow Kinder to check account balances and print reports.