Mount Pocono Budget Deficit Nearly Half a Million Dollars
MOUNT POCONO - Nearing the end of a year which began with an attempt to double council pay and give members health benefits, plus the imposition of a nearly ten-percent tax hike, at the October 6 Borough Council meeting, two-term council president Claudette Williams announced that the municipality’s budget deficit was $488,000.
After mentioning reduced tax receipts “due to COVID”, Williams then launched into a defense of council. “Members of council receive $900 per year, $75 per month, $17.30 a week, and $2.36 per day” she told the meeting before declaring, “We are not doing this because of the money.” Williams then mentioned possible borough committee reassignments, before ending her report.
Attending the meeting, in addition to council, were Borough Secretary and Treasurer Lori Noonan, recently returned from medical leave, during which council reduced her to part-time hours; Jean Simchak, hired by council at an hourly rate equivalent to $50,000/year, to act as “temporary”, full-time assistant borough secretary/treasurer; and two “part-time” zoning officers hired to replace Noonan’s husband, fired by council at the demand of the mayor earlier this year.
Last month the council voted to approve advertising for a borough manager at an anticipated salary equivalent to Secretary Noonan’s. They have interviewed one candidate for the position. They also opened bids for a seven-year forensic audit, which came in at $35,000 and up. The potential auditors are schedule to be at the next work session.
No meetings on the 2021 budget preparation have been announced for this year.
Two hours later, council returned to budget discussion around the upcoming Pocono Mountain Regional Police budget, which the mayor claimed would be $10,000 higher for Mount Pocono in 2021. In the course of that discussion, the mayor opined that “it works in our favor if we withdraw (from the Regional Police).” His logic was that, with the borough owning a percentage of the real estate, and the mortgage on the police headquarters due to be paid off in early 2022, if Mount Pocono withdraws, “they may be paying us” due to the value of the real estate.
Council discussed Halloween in two extensive segments during the meeting, ultimately setting trick or treat hours of 4 to 7 pm on Halloween.
The part-time zoning officers recommended that the borough advertise a two-week “amnesty” period for property owners who have done repairs without permits. During the amnesty, they would be expected to obtain the permits retroactively. If they failed to do so, “they would be in violation.” Council set an amnesty period for the first two weeks of November.
During the zoning report, they discussed changes to the rules relating to residential sheds, including increasing the permitted sizes of the sheds from 180 square feet to 320. No action was taken by council on the proposed ordinance revision.
The solicitor said that one alleged illegal short term rental was served with a complaint, that they had retained a lawyer and filed an answer. That owner was the same one involved in a previous lawsuit over his rental property which, after several years and thousands of dollars in legal fees paid by council, the property owner won.
The solicitor said there was a second property owner which they have not been able to serve yet.
Williams said that the auditors who submitted proposals for the multi-year forensic audit would be at the next work session.
Deb Fulton, vice-chair of the Parks and Recreation Committee, again addressed council regarding the proposal of the Pocono Pride request for a letter of support for an LSA grant they are seeking. The grant would be for the purchase and construction of a pole building on the Oak Street park property.
The building would house batting cages to allow the team to have all-weather practices. The organization, which has maintained the field at no cost to the borough for nearly 20 years, also undertook to pay for the insurance and upkeep of the building.
At this point, Fulton told council, all the sport organization needs is a letter from council in support. The letter, it was explained, would not obligate council to accept the project. If the organization received the grant, the conditions of the placement of the building on borough property would entirely be in council’s discretion and control.
After extended discussion, it was finally approved 4-3 with council members Fran O’Boyle, Patty Bucco, and Thomas Neville opposing the youth sports group. Council also approved the purchase of a new grooming machine for the ball fields at a cost not to exceed $24,000. The purchase will be financed by development fees paid by the WaWa property developer, which are dedicated for use by Parks and Recreation purposes, and does not come out of real estate tax-generated funds.
Council had an extended discussion regarding the potential elimination or reduction of fees for yard sales. The matter was referred to the solicitor to review.
The time of the meeting was a painful 2 hours, 8 minutes, 50 seconds, not including the delay in the start of the meeting.
The next meeting of the borough council is a work session on Monday, October 19, at 7 pm.