Free Phone Gums Up the Works, Mayor Shorts Police on Invoice, Calls Out Scavello on Safety Signs
MOUNT POCONO - Mount Pocono Borough Council has elected to use a free conference call service to conduct meetings remotely.
The value of the free product was apparently on display at this month’s regular council meeting, which was marked for extreme technical difficulties rendering the audio sometimes impossible for the public to hear.
During the meeting, members of council could be heard blaming others for the problems. Council member Claudette Williams said “so-called media is causing problems,” but did not provide any basis for that accusation.
Midway through the meeting, it was accidentally revealed that a majority of the council and the mayor were actually physically present in the borough building, despite the public notice that the council would meet remotely.
Those at the borough building were Fran O’Boyle, Patty Bucco, Thomas “Tommy” Neville, Claudette Williams, and the mayor. The public was not admitted to the borough building. Council members Ron Emilie and Stacy Stewart Keeler attended remotely, as did the Borough Secretary and solicitor. Council member Aida Montanez did not attend the meeting.
After several reviews of the tape, it appears that the technical problems, which amounted to the free service’s “on-hold” music playing in the background, feedback, and echoes, occurred almost exclusively when one or more persons in the borough building spoke. The Borough Secretary, the solicitor, and members of the public, could be distinctly heard.
Mayor Disputes Police Bill
But business did eventually get done. At the top of the meeting, the mayor instructed the Borough Secretary not to pay the full quarterly invoice from the Pocono Mountain Regional Police because it was about 2% more than last year. “We shouldn’t be paying that,” he said, referring to the $3,661.67 above last year’s first quarter police bill.
When the mayor and Williams presented the Borough’s 2020 budget to the public in November, December, and January, they made assurances that police costs would not increase in 2020.
Contacted for a response, Regional Police Chief Christopher Wagner told The Boro* that the 2020 regional budget included a 2% increase from the very first draft in October, 2019, and no commissioner or municipality objected.
He said that the budget was discussed at the October, November, and December 2019 police commission meetings, and was “adopted unanimously. The 2% increase amounts to a quarterly increase of $3,661.67 for the Borough.”
Williams and the mayor serve on the regional police commission as the borough representatives. Williams is also the commission secretary.
A review of commission meeting minutes reveal no objection to the increase from either Williams or the mayor.
In December, Williams joined the rest of the commission in voting to adopt the increased budget. The mayor was absent from that meeting.
However, he was at the October 2019 meeting at which the commissioners unanimously voted to forward the budget with the 2% increase to the member municipalities.
He was also at the November 2019 meeting at which the commissioners reviewed a revised budget, which still included the 2% increase. No objection was noted in the minutes, which included a section for individual municipalities to raise any concerns.
Mayor Challenges Scavello
Speed Limit Signs Again Tabled
Council’s purchase of solar powered “Your Speed Is” signs for the main street area was again tabled. Last summer, the mayor reported that Senator Mario Scavello had offered to help find financing for the purchase of the signs to help slow traffic on route 611 downtown. Proposals for the signs were received back then, but tabled by council until this year.
At this month’s meeting O’Boyle told council that the senator told him the borough needed to seek funds through an “LSA grant”. Local Share Account, or LSA, funds are payments made from casino profits to the state Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED).
The DCED distributes the monies through grants to counties, municipalities, and regional economic development agencies, for economic development, community improvement, and public interest projects. LSA grants must be sought before any expenditures are made. The application period for LSA grants is July through September each year.
The mayor objected, “that's not what he told me! Scavello told me if we got the signs, he would reimburse us, but we had to spend the money first.” Council again tabled the purchase.
Reached for comment, Senator Scavello told The Boro* that the mayor “got it exactly backwards. I told him that he had to apply for the LSA Grant before buying the signs.”
Senator Scavello also pointed out that the conversation was nearly a year ago. “They never applied for it last year,” the senator said, “now the casino has been closed and it will be closed for another two months.” As a result, there will be much less LSA money available this year.
The senator also pointed out that the council had raised taxes this year, then sought salary increases and health benefits for themselves, “maybe,” he said, “they can pay for the signs with those dollars.”
Williams: Borough Finances
“Don’t Look Good”
Speaking to the borough’s 2020 budget, Williams said “we had two or three budget meetings”, and “it doesn’t look good.”
Williams is on the budget committee, along with O’Boyle, Bucco, and the mayor. She did not say if or when there would be another meeting, or why “it doesn’t look good.”
At the time of the May meeting, Mount Pocono’s tax receipts were actually more than $76,000, or nearly 22%, above receipts during the same period last year. The council’s budget committee does not conduct public meetings.
Solicitor: Must Remove Zoning Officer from ZHB
Council also accepted the resignation of the chair of the Zoning Hearing Board (ZHB).
When the council suddenly terminated its zoning officer in March, the mayor asked council to make Jean Simchak, the chair of the ZHB, the borough’s zoning officer until they hired one to replace Dennis Noonan.
At the time, both the solicitor and the Borough Secretary reminded the board that a member of the ZHB could not legally also serve as Zoning Officer. However, as we reported last month, Simchak did not resign from the board when she became zoning officer.
At this month’s meeting, she asked for a “leave of absence” from the ZHB. The solicitor again stated that Simchak “cannot be on the Zoning Hearing Board.”
After some discussion, the solicitor said a “leave of absence” was the same as a resignation. Council then granted the request with only O’Boyle voting against, saying “she has to resign.”
Council then appointed Michelle Peck as an “alternate” to the Zoning Hearing Board.
For the second time in three months, the same bidder for a donated property was rejected by the council.
Council turned down a $5,000 bid on property on Brunswick drive donated to the borough. In March, council rejected a $1,000 bid from the same out of state purchaser. This month, council authorized negotiations with the bidder for a higher price, with the intent to place the property with a realtor if needed. Council had the lot appraised last year at $30,000.
The solicitor reported that three projects which have been pending in the borough for several months are now proceeding towards finalization of development agreements. These are the building of a new McDonald’s next to the current one, which will be demolished; the Starbucks & Aspen Dental strip going on the empty lot next to Perkins; and finally the large warehouse in the industrial park which will straddle the Coolbaugh/Mount Pocono line.
Council finally moved forward the fireworks ordinance, which has been pending for almost two years. Under the ordinance, no consumer fireworks may be used in the Borough within 200 feet of any building. Where they are permitted, they may not be set off after 11 pm, except on holidays when they may be displayed until 1 am. Council is set to vote on the ordinance at the June meeting.
During the meeting it was learned that council had to return the fingerprint time clocks they received last month because they discovered they did not have the software needed to run them.
Park Maintenance Dropped,
Food Truck Issue Tabled
Council refused to fund fertilizer and weed control expenses for the baseball fields and the playground, citing lack of use due to the COVID-19 stay at home directives. Parks and Recreation Committee member Debra Fulton implored them to reconsider, pointing out that the failure to maintain the fields, even during non-use, would destroy previous repairs, many of which were done through donated funds.
Council also took no action on a food truck operator whose attorney had written asking confirmation that there are no ordinances preventing operation on private property.
Although the temporary zoning officer claimed it was “not a permitted use” under the zoning ordinance, the borough solicitor said that a mobile food truck would not be subject to zoning ordinances, which deal with the use of land and structures on them. He said it would be up to council to enact a regulatory ordinance.
Instead, council referred the matter to the planning commission, which is charged with advising on zoning ordinance matters.
The next scheduled council meeting is a regular meeting on June 1.