Shamokin overdue for tough financial decisions
Of the myriad assessments that can be made of Shamokin's difficult financial situation, we highlight the 2008 report produced by the Pennsylvania Economy League (PEL).
For starters, we should remember PEL was brought into the city nearly six years ago to address a financial crisis.
From its study of the budget, PEL produced a report that revealed annual projected operating deficits as follows: $336,532 in 2008, $523,908 in 2009, $639,734 in 2010, $732,578 in 2011 and $819,501 in 2012.
One PEL representative summed it up very clearly: "This is a very significant dilemma for the city."
Despite this writing on the wall, we're still surprised the city can't pay this year's bills or balance next year's budget without severe cuts?
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Of course, the problem is there was time to react to that 2008 report, but, frankly, not enough was done - except to ask property owners to pay higher taxes. Meanwhile, costs, including for pensions and health care, continued to escalate.
But there are some political calculations to be derived from PEL's 2008 work as well. Its dire observations came long before councilman and mayor-elect Bill Milbrand took a seat at the city council table, and long before Steve Bartos was hired as city clerk.
We point out those two names only in that they've taken the brunt of the criticism for the current situation, in which city council has voted to furlough two full-time and two part-time police officers and a full-time street worker. It's not that Milbrand and Bartos don't deserve any scrutiny. But it's obvious this problem should not be pinned solely on them, especially when the other four current members of council - Mayor George Rozinskie, R. Craig Rhoades, Michael Snyder and William Strausser - were on council or otherwise in an elected position in 2008.
Even the public paid little attention to the growing deficit - until the budget ax fell on the police department. That's to be expected, and the show of concern at Monday night's council meeting was impressive and clear: council should do all it can to keep a 24-hour police force, even if it has grown to represent nearly 45 percent of the city's overall budget.
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As it is, we're encouraged by Milbrand's performance during this difficult past seven weeks. As mayor-elect, he could have stayed in the shadows, but he has emerged as a leader, someone willing to face the music, as he did Monday night. More importantly, he is leading council in making difficult and unpopular decisions - including his refusal to carry a six-figure debt from one year into the next as had been the practice.
But this council still faces the problems detailed in 2008: a lack of long-term planning, overspending, failure to make cuts and a shrinking tax base.
The newly aligned council that takes office in January cannot fail citizens again. This time, the problems need to be addressed, and that difficult process took its first important steps Monday night.