BOSWELL – Some Borough Council members have been outspoken about a financial crisis – though none of the current board members have a solid answer for what expenses are burning up the budget or what revenues are cutting away at the bottom line.

But a review of recent financial audits of the borough’s revenues and expenses shows little change from 2009 to the most recent audited year available, 2013. Year-end balances were $12,139 in the red in 2010. The other years showed a surplus.

In that span, revenues from taxes rose from $133,616 in 2009 to $164,736 in 2013.

In the same time period, costs for public works, which include salaries and benefits for two full-time employees, also rose: from $85,735 to $109,140.

The money trail is confusing, borough Mayor Sue Sarver said.

“Either there is no huge financial crisis, or the treasurer’s reports or figures we are getting are off,” she said. “I can’t figure out why the $20,000 was needed or where it went. We’ve always been desperate for money. I don’t see it being worse than it has been.”

Borough Council President Mary Ann DeLuca could not be reached for comment, but she said in a previous interview that she has no idea why the borough is so cash-strapped that borough officials had to take out a $20,000 loan in January to cover expenses.

One concern Sarver and Councilwoman Lynn Shumaker raised is how perceived financial woes are affecting the borough’s police department.

And, they said, a financial crisis may further an impression that continuing to cover costs for housing Boswell Volunteer Fire Company in a borough-owned, aging building is not feasible.

Tracking $20,000

Flipping through stacks of treasurer’s reports, Shumaker, chairwoman of council’s public safety committee, said the loan doesn’t make sense.

“Where is the $20,000 shortfall?” she said. “And where did it go?”

Council members approved a $20,000 loan to cover operating expenses in January. The money was spent before the end of February, former borough treasurer Beverly Bruening said at council’s regular March meeting, the same meeting where she submitted her resignation letter, saying her work had “more than doubled.”

A treasurer’s report from January 2015 shows an opening balance of $11,738.43 and receipts of $7,876.94, which together are $5,256.33 greater than the month’s listed expenses: $14,361.29. A general ledger breakdown from the same month shows a $20,000 addition to the borough’s general checking account, with an $11,381.69 ending balance.

The treasurer’s report for February starts with an opening balance of $11,381.59, includes $10,787.48 in receipts, plus $2.58 in interest earned, as well as $15,182.36 in expenses to produce an ending balance of $6,989.29.

Shumaker said she is concerned that council appears to use the police budget as a backup fund to cover other needs.

At the regular council meeting in March, DeLuca said funds budgeted for the police department could be used to cover shortfalls in other areas.

That was after council members said there was not enough money to restore one police officer’s hours from eight to 16 per week. The borough’s other officer works 32 hours weekly.

The cut in hours was meant as a temporary means to save money during winter months, when maintenance for the borough’s 8 miles of road are most costly, Shumaker said.

“Right now, we are actually under budget (for police) as far as I can tell,” Shumaker said.

“There is no reason to attack a department that’s on budget. Obviously, something is way off budget.”

Discussions have stalled with the fire company, housed across the the street from the borough offices and police department.

In February, fire department President Bob Turner told council members that the fire company would cover half of utility expenses at the borough-owned building if council members would cover half of repairs and the cost of a new furnace.

Since March, neither side has contacted the other, Turner said. In the meantime, the borough continues to pay all utility expenses at the building, which are estimated to total roughly $6,000 annually.

Policing costs

While preparing this year’s $239,550 budget, council members were told that income and revenues were down, Sarver said.

“I suggested a $212,000 budget, which was closer to the income we were told we’d be receiving,” she said.

Shumaker said she echoes Sarver’s concern.

“You should only count what’s in hand,” Shumaker said, adding that she had suggested a tax increase when she was appointed to council last fall. Council did not raise taxes.

Both women said one rising expense is health insurance coverage for the two public works employees and both of their spouses. Those expenses are covered in full, with no deductible, Sarver said, which costs the borough more than $18,500 annually, according to paperwork provided to council members in August. The same paperwork shows that the costs for the UPMC plans are expected to increase to more than $27,000, if unchanged.

“My suggestion was to charge the wives an amount per month to offset costs,” Sarver said.

“There is no company out there anywhere who doesn’t charge anything.

“My issue is: ‘Why does the money always have to come from the police department?’ This is not personal. You should make small changes across the board.”

Sarver said she feels the department has been under scrutiny – even beyond spending.

A community watch group that former police Chief Chad Salley started was quelled in May, a week before Salley was fired, Sarver said. So was a Facebook page Salley had started, she added.

“Social media is meant to let people know what the police are doing and to engage with them,” she said. “Why wouldn’t you want that?”

Shumaker said she is working to get a better grasp of where money is being spent, and she will keep an eye on police budget changes.

“My opinion is: I don’t think they really want a police department,” she said.

In February, the borough’s two part-time officers made three criminal arrests, performed 10 traffic stops, issued 32 parking tickets and 13 traffic warnings, and provided 30 assists to EMS and two police assists for other agencies, according to the most recent monthly report.

Borough Solicitor Joe Policicchio said he has not been updated on budget concerns and therefore can’t provide comment or insight.

Per-capita collection

One potential improvement council members have identified is per-capita tax collection.

In a comparison with a customer list for a local trash hauler, borough Secretary Connie Knopsnyder told council she counted at least 300 households that were not on the borough’s per capita tax rolls.

Steve Wilshire, who has lived in the borough’s Boswoods development for nearly five years, said he’s never received a bill – and doesn’t believe many of his neighbors have, either.

“There’s tax money that’s being thrown away,” he said.

“I’m supposed to be paying that. That’s just your responsibility as a resident.”

Wilshire said he also is concerned about losing police presence.

“As soon as weather starts getting nice, the crime is going to ramp up,” he said. “That just went rampant around here last year.”

The borough’s longtime tax collector, Cathy Snoeberger, said there are two problems with using a trash collection list as a gauge for how well tax rolls are kept, though she said there is room for improvement.

“We could knock on doors and ask if anybody is working,” she said. “You can’t add them to the rolls unless you know their occupation. Second, with so many rentals here and two housing projects, many of those people don’t pay a garbage bill.”

Consulting the North Star School District’s tax collection information could be helpful, she said.

“Without getting a census, I don’t know if we can tell how many people we’re missing,” she said.

“My job is to collect taxes. I know people personally in town who aren’t paying. It’s a problem. I have no idea how much they’re actually losing.”

Snoeberger, whose salary from the borough last year was $3,608, said she would be open to helping find a solutions – and she’s spoken with previous council members in years past – but no one has contacted her from the current council board.

“I will work with them in getting this done, but we have to have help,” she said.

By the numbers

Source: Annual municipal audit and financial reports for Boswell Borough from 2009 to 2012, obtained from the state’s Department of Community and Economic Development, and a 2013 audit report from certified public accountant Brenda Webb of Bedford.

2009

Taxes: $133,616.00

Other Revenues: $50,954.00

Public Works Expenses: $(85,735.00)

Police Expenses: $(8,765.00)

Fire Expenses: $(8,279.00)

Other Expenses: $(72,341.00)

Year End Revenues Minus Expenses: $9,450.00

2010

Taxes: $135,400.00

Other Revenues: $45,082.00

Public Works Expenses: $(94,724.00)

Police Expenses: $(13,361.00)

Fire Expenses: $(8,935.00)

Other Expenses: $(75,601.00)

Year End Revenues Minus Expenses: $(12,139.00)

2011

Taxes: $139,466.00

Other Revenues: $65,147.00

Public Works Expenses: $(86,602.00)

Police Expenses: $(6,360.00)

Fire Expenses: $(9,320.00)

Other Expenses: $(75,329.00)

Year End Revenues Minus Expenses: $27,002.00

2012

Taxes: $152,076.00

Other Revenues: $50,231.00

Public Works Expenses: $(91,897.00)

Police Expenses: $(22,538.00)

Fire Expenses: $(5,327.00)

Other Expenses: $(68,358.00)

Year End Revenues Minus Expenses: $14,187.00

2013

Taxes: $164,736.00

Other Revenues: $46,649.00

Public Works Expenses: $(109,140.00)

Police Expenses: $(16,902.00)

Fire Expenses: $(5,809.00)

Other Expenses: $(77,956.00)

Year End Revenues Minus Expenses: $1,578.00

Kecia Bal is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. Find her on Twitter at @KeciaBKay.

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