Honesdale reopens 2020 budget

By OWEN WALSH
Posted 1/8/20

HONESDALE, PA — Though there were some new faces in the room, as well as some changes to the schedule, it was clear after Honesdale Borough’s reorganization meeting on Monday, January 6 …

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Honesdale reopens 2020 budget

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HONESDALE, PA — Though there were some new faces in the room, as well as some changes to the schedule, it was clear after Honesdale Borough’s reorganization meeting on Monday, January 6 that some of 2019’s defining issues will continue to color council members’ conversations in the new year.

Reelects Mike Augello and Jim Jennings and the newly-elected Jared Newbon were sworn in by Mayor Sarah Canfield. Jim Jennings nominated Augello for council president, who was voted in by all but council members Bill Canfield and Jim Brennan. Canfield was voted vice president and Robert Jennings pro tempore; James Jennings was nominated for both positions but lost the vote both times.

After unanimously appointin some officials, the council members disagreed about changing its regular meeting schedule to twice-a-month or keeping it at once-a-month. Jim Jennings suggested the change, saying that in 2019, the council consistently had to call a special meeting every month anyway. Augello noted that meeting once-a-month was intended to save the borough money, but because every special meeting by law must be advertised in the local newspaper, an expense of about $50, it has ended up costing the borough more than having two regular meetings, which only need to be advertised once at the beginning of the year.

Robert Jennings said that special meetings are inevitable either way. Tim Lauffenberger said that single monthly meetings—which run upwards of four hours—hurt productivity because council members aren’t focused by the end of the night. The council voted 4-3 in favor of having meetings on the first and third Monday of every month at 6 p.m., with Canfield, Brennan and Robert Jennings in the minority.

Later that night, the council followed borough secretary Judy Poltanis’ suggestion to reopen the 2020 budget to fix some clerical issues. With the budget reopened, Canfield took the opportunity to again protest the borough’s use of the Harrisburg law firm Eckert Seamans, the services for which the borough allocated over $100,000 in the 2020 budget.

“I am very appalled by the fact that the borough council sits here and taxes the borough residents when we have a very competent, sincere solicitor [Richard Henry], and you’re paying an outside law firm three times as much as you’re paying [Henry],” said Canfield.

Augello answered Canfield similarly as he did last month, saying that before the borough retained Eckert Seamans’ services, Honesdale was steeped in lawsuits usually related to labor. It became difficult for the borough to find an insurance company to provide them with liability insurance, and the company that is providing insurance now is keeping Honesdale on a “watch list.” Augello also said that Honesdale’s police contract is up for negotiation soon and that the last contract, drafted without the help of labor attorneys had many problems. It’s also highly recommended by the Pennsylvania State Association of Boroughs that boroughs have labor attorneys, according to Augello.

Solicitor Henry thanked Canfield for his support, but said that using labor attorneys is necessary.

“There are certain things you do need a labor lawyer for, there’s no question about that,” Henry said. “We have been involved in probably an extraordinarily large amount of lawsuits and they all deal with labor.”

Reopening the budget also resurrected the perennial debate over police coverage. Council members Brennan and Robert Jennings stated their usual arguments that the borough should find a way to hire more police officers. Augello responded with his usual concerns about how much higher taxes would need to go to afford more officers. The police department currently employs four full-time officers, but only three of those four are actually on-the-job. Poltanis said she would meet and discuss police coverage with Brennan and Robert Jennings, who are on the safety committee, and that they would bring some figures to the next meeting. Police chief Richard Southerton said he would attend as well.

Southerton also added that the police department is technologically “way behind the times,” lacking equipment like body cameras and dashboard cameras.

“This isn’t the 1950s where you can give a cop a gun and a car and tell him to go out and do his job,” Southerton said.

Also related to the budget, Poltanis reported that Honesdale had significant savings at the end of 2019, the council agreed to use the savings for a smaller tax anticipation note of $200,000 rather than the original amount of $500,000. A tax anticipation note is essentially a “line of credit” issued to a municipality so it can pay its bills before revenue from taxes comes in. Going with $200,000 costs the borough less in interest than $500,000.

During the meeting, Honesdale police detective lieutenant Robert Langman received a law enforcement award from the local Veterans of Foreign Wars post. Mayor Canfield also presented Langman with a badge.

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