Shamokin trims nearly half off 2014 budget deficit
SHAMOKIN - City officials have cut Shamokin's projected deficit for 2014 nearly in half.
It was estimated at $327,378.20 prior to city council entering a closed door executive session during a special budget meeting held Tuesday at City Hall.
If additional cuts were made in personnel costs, the estimated deficit could be lower when city officials begin yet another special public budget meeting at 6:30 p.m. today, the fourth in five business days.
Council's original estimated deficit was $616,081.58 when it adopted its preliminary 2014 general fund budget on Nov. 27. Spending had been projected at $2,932,587.58 compared to revenues at $2,316,506.01.
The single biggest adjustment from the preliminary budget to the latest working version that's $288,703.38 less was a decision to remove the cost of legislative and legal health costs, meaning city council members and the solicitor will not be eligible to enroll in the city's health plan. The savings are estimated at a combined $71,714.98, according to budget figures.
A $100,000 line item for unfunded liquid fuels costs (including street lighting and road repairs) was dropped to $40,000 based on 2013 figures.
Other spending cuts include $11,368.20 for public safety cell phone costs and $15,000 from a public safety "other" line item; $5,200.15 in street department union
dues; $20,000 in police computer expenses; $12,913.39 in miscellaneous expenditures on city buildings and maintenance and $11,000 in administrative operating supplies.
Spending cuts are largely expected to balance the budget, but council also addressed revenue by adding $6,004.45 in a blight grant reimbursement, $20,000 in salary reimbursements from the recreation tax when city employees work on recreation projects, $8,000 in tax claims revenue and $5,000 each in projected code violation revenue and in potential rental income for use of the Claude Kehler Community Park.
Although it had previously been estimated that the city swimming pool lost between $80,000 and $100,000, new budget figures discussed by council had that figure at $15,338 - $77,513 in expenses, $38,275 in revenue and $23,900 in reimbursable salary expenses paid through the recreation tax rather than the general fund tax.
The prior estimates from City Clerk Steve Bartos and Treasurer Brenda Scandle are believed to have been ballooned after expenses unrelated to the swimming pool were attached to that account.
The recreation tax is projected down to 3 mills from 7.208 mills this year; however, the latest estimates show the 3 mills can support the pool and other limited recreation expenses, council members said.
Council discussed other areas regarding expenses, including the police vehicle fleet, which stands at seven. Councilman William Milbrand suggested that number could potentially be reduced.
Councilman R. Craig Rhoades suggested the city look to recoup additional revenue in fees from its cable service franchise with Service Electric. It currently is paid revenue based on the firm's cable offerings alone, but Rhoades said Shamokin must look to see if it can also earn revenue based on the firm's other offerings, which include premium television service and Internet service.
Rhoades also said changes made to the heating setup at Shamokin Emergency and Rescue Squad at Mill Road Square - ending the practice of heating the space by venting hot air from a police garage and requiring that it pay for its own heat - could also save money.
The city may soon take a hit at Mill Road Square after it was announced Michael's Foods is expected to leave the building in 2014. That's a loss of $3,300 in monthly rent. Councilman-elect Charlie Verano, a Shamokin Redevelopment Authority member, said the authority is doing what it can to convince the company to stay. He conceded that finding another tenant would be difficult given the amount of space that portion of the building takes up. The building is currently at maximum tenant capacity.
Milbrand expressed frustration toward Aqua Pennsylvania. The city is expected to pay the water company $30,696 in 2014 for maintenance of its fire hydrant system, which totals 150 hydrants. He said the firm isn't interested in working to reduce the figure despite the city not using "anywhere close" to that amount in water. However, other council members reiterated that the cost isn't derived from water use, but from maintenance.
A final balanced version of the 2014 budget is slated to be adopted on Dec. 23.