Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Excuse Lame Not Release City Financial Data

Financial issues draw attention
By Steve Ferris, Herald-Standard
Updated 05/06/2009 12:58:19 AM EDT
Email to a friendPost a CommentPrinter-friendly
(Editor's note: The following is the second of a two-part series on the primary race for Uniontown City Council.)Democratic candidates for Uniontown City Council offered varying opinions on the city's financial struggles at a recent debate conducted by the Herald-Standard editorial board.

Incumbent Gary K. Crozier, appointed Councilman Francis "Joby" Palumbo and challengers Gary Gearing and James L. Killinger are seeking Democratic Party nominations for two seats on council in the May 19 primary.


Republican candidates Curtis R. Sproul, who was recently appointed to fill a vacant council seat until the municipal election in November, and Russ Rhodes were not included in the debate because they are running uncontested in the primary.

A debate between the Democratic and Republican nominees for those two offices and the parties' nominees to serve the remainder of an unexpired term will be conducted prior to the November election.

Crozier, who is running for his fifth consecutive term, said no one should be blamed for the city's financial difficulties, but not raising property taxes in the past is at least part of the cause.

"I voted for raising taxes 10 years ago, 12 years ago," Crozier said.

He said the city's accountant told council then that the city couldn't continue operating with the amount of revenue it was getting from taxes.

"I wanted to raise taxes, it wasn't raised," Crozier said, adding that he believes the city's financial condition is improving.

He said council had to raise taxes this year, but shouldn't have cut services.

Council laid off 31 employees in October 2008 and then raised taxes, laid off 10 more employees and made two others part time this year. Ten employees were recalled in April.

Soon after taking office in January 2008, Mayor Ed Fike reported that the city inherited $1.3 million in debt from the prior administration. The auditor general's office began an audit in February.

Crozier said potholes have to be filled and streets are dirty. He said council has to do something for residents who have been forced to pay higher taxes.

The city needs a manager to handle its finances, he said.

"The city needs a city manager."..."I'm for it 100 percent."

Some people don't understand the role a manager would play, Crozier said. Council would continue to run the city if a manager was hired, he said.

Gearing, who has been a candidate for state representative in the past, said it's hard to know whom to blame for causing the financial struggles because many financial records are not available.

A 2008 financial statement from the current administration had not been completed as of April 2009 and financial information from prior years is "absent," Gearing said, adding that financial documents should be available on line.

"It's all about accountability and responsibility," Gearing said.

He said council did the right thing by reducing expenses and raising taxes, but it is not letting the public know how money is being spent.

This year's budget is "over inflated" and needs a lot of changes, Gearing said.

A city manager would help the city, but finding out how the city got into debt should be the first priority, he said.

In the past, spending was not done in accordance with budgets and the current council has not provided information on spending, Gearing said.

Killinger, a former commander of the state police barracks in Belle Vernon who retired after 30 years in the state police, said the last and previous administrations probably caused the financial problems facing the city.

He said he asked council to contact the auditor general to conduct an audit in 2008 to find out how the city ended up in financial trouble.

"That fell on deaf ears for a year," Killinger said.

He said no information is available about how the last and former administrations spent money. The first priority should be to find out how the city got into debt, he said.

Killinger said council should have asked the state to help track down the city's debt in early 2008 and should consider hiring a manager.

Palumbo, who was appointed in January 2008 to serve the remainder of Joseph Giachetti's term after he was elected treasurer, said the prior administration caused the financial crisis the city is facing now.

"We had a mess to clean up," when the new administration stepped in last year, Palumbo said.

He said Gearing had not received the information he has requested because the 2008 financial books have not been closed and city officials do not want to release inaccurate information.

Work stopped on the 2007 audit last year because the city didn't have enough money to pay the accounting firm that was conducting the audit, but work has resumed, Palumbo said.

The public should be able to review city financial documents, he said.

Council needs someone, possibly a manager, to work full time on city finances, Palumbo said.

He said there should be a checks and balances system to monitor spending in all departments and the manager.

"We can't afford to relive the past," Palumbo said...."I think greed crept in in the past."

No comments: