Dec. 4—SHAMOKIN — The Shamokin City Council passed a tentative budget for 2022 that maintains a tax rate of 35 mills for real estate and 2 percent earned income tax.
During a special meeting on Friday night, the council passed the $4.2 million budget, hired three new police officers and approved employee bonuses for up to $10,000 from COVID-19 relief funds. The budget was approved 3-1 with council members Scott Roughton, Charles Verano and Barbara Moyer voting for it while Mayor John Brown voted against it. Councilwoman Jennifer Seidel was absent.
"Much like last year, I voted against the budget," said Brown after the meeting. "It was the same budget. When COVID hit, we were afraid we would have to lay employees off. The staff was able to trim $300,000 out of the budget so we didn't have to lay anyone off. If we can trim during an emergency, we can do it and not have to keep the five mills. I don't think enough time was put into it."
Northumberland County Judge Hugh Jones on Wednesday approved the city's petition to keep millage rates 5 mills above the maximum millage rate and 1 percent above the maximum earned income tax, which would allow the city to generate nearly $800,000 in revenue to balance the 2020 budget. It is the 14th consecutive year that the city was approved for the higher millage rate of 35 mills and the eighth year for the EIT at 2 percent.
As part of the Act 47 protection program since July 2014, the city is considered a financially stressed municipality, which allows the city to avoid bankruptcy, secure state interest-free loan assistance and budgetary oversight and authorizes the collection of higher taxes.
The state Department of Economic Development and the Act 47 consultants on Dec. 19 presented the city with a three-year exit plan from Act 47 that recommends a workforce reduction, less paid time off and limited employee health care.
The three new officers—Benjamin Busko, Travis Minnig and Preston Gehring—will start as soon as they are graduated from the academy, putting the police department up to 10 officers, said Police Chief Raymond Siko III.
Siko congratulated the new officers and wished them luck.
The city distributed a total of $225,000 to 28 full and part-time city employees, including municipal employees, firefighters and police officers. Eleven employees got $5,000 and 17 got $10,000. The funds come from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA).
The bonuses were distributed to employees who are still employed with the city and worked between March 2020 and June 2021. Bonuses were based on hours worked. No seasonal employees received bonuses, said City Administration Bob Slaby.
"The mayor and council have felt that almost eight years of being a financially distressed town with minimal pay increases, this was a way to say thanks to city employees," said Slaby.
Councilman Charles Verano previously said ARPA funds cannot be used to pave streets or purchase fire equipment. Other municipalities have used the federal funds for employee bonuses. In October, Sunbury City Council members approved bonuses ranging from $1,000 to $2,000 for 39 employees.