Court may not look favorably on recent spending by city
Shamokin has been fortunate in securing court approval for four straight years for a property tax rate above what's allowed by the Third Class City Code. It may have placed its approval for 2013 in jeopardy, however, with several recent spending decisions.
City Council decided to reward City Clerk Steve Bartos with a healthy raise after he came through on his promise to help reverse the city's financial standing. Bartos has done well, saving tens of thousands of public dollars with new insurance policies, reworked utility contracts and bond refinancing, and his extensive knowledge in government helped the city land a $1.8 million federal grant to repair the Shamokin Creek flood wall damaged by Tropical Storm Lee. He has kept Shamokin's delicate bookkeeping balance in the black.
But the city may have trouble explaining in court its approval of a $9,350 raise for Bartos next year, a 21-percent boost of his salary from $36,050 to $45,400. The three council members who gave their OK said he earned it, and that it compares to city clerk salaries from the past; a fourth agreed Bartos has performed well, but said the increase was out of line and voted against it.
In light of the city's finances, we agree with the latter. Certainly, the city could have kept Bartos satisfied with a promise to get him to that higher level over perhaps a period of two or three years, avoiding public backlash from strained taxpayers in the meantime.
The judge who will hear the city's appeal for a 30-mill property tax rate will also likely raise his eyebrows at council's unanimous approval to purchase $16,940 in furniture for the "community living room" under construction in the basement of the American Legion Building.
Bartos made smart use of resources in having renovation work done in the basement by workers hired using government grant money related to flood recovery. They did $75,000 worth of labor at no cost to the city.
But to furnish the room with six leather sofas and other high-end furniture, plus possibly spend more money on as many as nine flat-screen TVs and seven electronic gaming systems, borders on outrageous. Though the money came from an insurance settlement, the building has many other needs.
Even an optimist has to be skeptical of the prospects that the recreational center will be successful in the first place. Kids can play games on their phones nowadays, and most adults in this fast-paced world are content to watch TV and have a cup of coffee in their own living rooms when they have the chance. Besides, this facility, nice as the renovations may be, is in a basement.
Also, if the rec center is successful, it would mean its luring customers away from other downtown businesses.
Most concerning is how the court will view this spending while it's being asked to further burden property owners in a "financially distressed" city. If Shamokin doesn't get that higher millage rate, it may be having a yard sale with some awesome furniture just to make payroll.