FORTY FORT – Borough council went into Wednesday's budget meeting thinking it had a $483,000 deficit to deal with for 2013; it left with a problem about half the size and the president still fearing that a tax hike is inevitable.
At the start of the meeting, the budget draft predicted $1,601,434 in revenue and $2,084,893 in expenses, but council members eventually realized the draft included a $250,000 tax anticipation note payback in expenses but did not include the loan as revenue.
Adjusting for the correction, a gap of $234,000 still exists between income and expenses.
The deficit also takes into consideration council President Joe Chacke's proposed elimination of one police officer and one Streets Department worker, a cut in hours for administrative staff and code enforcement and a reduction in the hours of pool operation in the summer. Chacke said he also eliminated almost all wish-list requests from department heads.
It also includes Chacke's proposal to hire a director of public safety, who would oversee the departments of police, fire, code and emergency management. The salary would be $40,000.
Chacke said Police Chief Fred Lahovski resigned over the weekend in a phone call. He said Lahovski gave no specific reason, and it was just something he's been considering over time and he felt like it was time for him to go.
A federal lawsuit was filed earlier this year against Lahovski and Chacke by Forty Fort officer Peter Lakkis, who claims his right to free speech was violated. The lawsuit alleges Lahovski and Chacke issued an order that required Lakkis to seek written permission before he could speak to the mayor or any member of council. Lakkis contends the order was issued to prevent him from reporting misconduct allegedly committed by Lahovski.
Councilman and Budget Committee Chairman Robert Craig suggested having an officer in charge instead of a chief or other administrator, but other council members said a manager who is not an officer was needed.
Some of the increased expenses contributing to the budget deficit include:
• A 69 percent increase in the borough's required contribution to the police, fire and non-uniform employee pension funds, up $91,530 from this year.
• A 4 percent increase in employee medical insurance, up $27,661 from this year.
• An anticipated reduction in earned income taxes because of distribution delays caused by Centax Group, the former tax collector.
• An approximate $50,000 increase in firefighter salaries, which Borough Manager Barbara Fairchild said might not be accurate.
She said she will seek requests for proposals from health and liability insurance providers, hoping to find savings. She also anticipated beginning a process to determine whether a change in the pension fund manager is warranted.
The council will meet for another budget meeting 7 p.m. Nov. 5.