SHAMOKIN - The city is still waiting for Susquehanna Bank to approve an $800,000 loan to pay its bills due by the end of the year.

City council held a special meeting Friday morning for the primary purpose of formally approving the loan after Northumberland County Judge Charles Saylor granted the city's request to borrow the money during a hearing Thursday morning. But solicitor H. Robert Mattis said the bank has not yet given its approval, but he was optimistic it will happen soon.

Mattis said council will have to conduct another special meeting after the bank approves the loan.

The loan is part of the city's enrollment in the state Department of Community and Economic Development's (DCED) Early Intervention Program for financially distressed municipalities.

Once council approves the loan, documents will be hand-delivered to DCED in Harrisburg.

There is a required 15-day waiting period for DCED's review and approval of the loan. That would leave just enough time for the city to make the payments on an estimated $750,000 in bills it owes by the end of the year for which it has no money to pay. Mattis said if the process involved in securing the loan isn't completed by Dec. 31, he doesn't believe the city will suffer any financial penalty.

Consultant hired

The only action taken by council at the special meeting was the hiring of Stevens & Lee of Lancaster as a financial consultant for the Early Intervention Program at a cost of $72,360, which will be paid with a DCED grant.

Other financial consultant proposals were submitted by the Pennsylvania Economy League of Wilkes-Barre and Econsult Solutions/Fairmont Group of Philadelphia.

Voting to hire Stevens & Lee were Mayor George Rozinskie and Councilmen William Strausser and William Milbrand. Councilmen R. Craig Rhoades and Michael Snyder were absent. City clerk Steve Bartos, who remains on medical leave, also was not in attendance.

Strausser, who reviewed the proposals for the city, said, "I believe Stevens & Lee was the best one for us. They will do more for less money."

$150,000 estimate 'wrong'

In a related development involving the loan, Chief of Police Edward Griffiths said Bartos, who was the chief witness at Thursday's court hearing, provided inaccurate testimony regarding overtime costs involved with officers transporting prisoners to and from preliminary hearings in light of the county commissioners' decision earlier this year to end the county practice of paying constables to transport inmates.

Bartos said the decision to shift the duty of transporting prisoners to municipalities dramatically increased police overtime. He said those costs are not reimbursable from the state, whereas the county was partly reimbursed.

He also said Shamokin and other county municipalities will incur costs for new radios for police and firefighters connected with federally mandated upgrades to the 911 communications system.

Bartos estimated overtime for prisoner transports and costs for new radios at $150,000.

"That's totally wrong," Griffiths said.

He said there is no overtime involved with the transportation of prisoners since he and special officer I Robert Searls handle the vast majority of the duties during their day-shift working hours.

Griffiths, who is not eligible for overtime as chief, and Searls receive compensatory straight time if they work beyond their normal shift. The chief said when an off-duty officer is called in to help with transports, he also receives compensatory straight time. Griffiths said there have only been 15 transports involving an off-duty officer this year.

Griffiths said his department is saving the city at least $20,000 per year by having him and Searls transport prisoners.

"We have no overtime costs for the transports and the new radios will cost us about $80,000," Griffiths said. "Mr. Bartos is always trying to blame the police for some of the financial problems. Our part of the budget is high, but so is every other police department in our area that has a similar amount of officers."