WILKES-BARRE — City Council on Thursday night approved spending $64,595 for an audit of last year’s municipal finances.
The firm of Maher Duessel, certified public accountants with offices in Harrisburg, was chosen after much deliberation to look at the city’s general purpose financial statements, said Jim Ryan, city clerk.
“They are very experienced in municipal audits. They’ve done audits across the state,” Ryan said at the start of council’s regularly scheduled meeting.
Before council voted on the resolution to appoint the company, Frank Sorick, president of the Wilkes-Barre City Taxpayers Association, asked whether the city considered using someone who might be able to do the work for free or at a lower cost.
He suggested Karen Ceppa Hirko, an experienced accountant, or Mark Robbins, who also has experience doing municipal audits. Both of the people he mentioned frequently have criticized city officials and Mayor Tom Leighton for how they handle the city’s finances and taxpayers’ money.
Leighton asked if either of them submitted a bid for the service and added, “Did they ask you to ask that question, Frank?”
Sorick said they did not.
Council Chairman Bill Barrett explained the city sent out request for proposals and received replies from qualified and unqualified firms. “The ramifications, if the audit isn’t done correctly, is very widespread — as it pertains to funding and other issues that involve revenues,” he said.
The type of work in question has to be thorough, Barrett said. “We’ve had an experience or experiences in the past that weren’t very comfortable for the city and had consequences,” he said.
Maher Duessel was approved by a 3-0 vote with Barrett, Mike Merritt and Maureen Lavelle voting. Council members George Brown and Tony George were excused from the meeting.
Council also approved the restructuring of a $500,000 loan back to its original form as a grant as part of the $1 million the city received from the state Department of Community and Economic Development to finish the interior retail space of the University Corners project in the downtown. The project has been completed and TLC One Holdings LLC, an investment company headed by Joe Amato, plans to purchase the property.
In other business, council approved: a one-year lease with Calman Baggs of Wilkes-Barre to operate the snack bar at Kirby Park for $1,414; and an agreement with Northern Tier Research of Dunmore to provide blood alcohol and drug laboratory services to the city police department at set prices of $75 per blood alcohol test, $125 for a blood drug screen, $150 for a blood drug screen confirmation and $125 for evidence analysis of an unknown substance.