Sharon salt-bill plan rejected again

SHARON, Pa. -- City council has rejected a second plan to pay for the additional road salt the city needed to clear streets this winter.
The majority of council voted against a plan proposed by Mayor David O. Ryan and Finance Director Michael Gasparich on Monday to transfer money from 22 accounts to make up the $68,000 needed to pay the salt bill that was due April 1.
"It's irresponsible not to pay for this salt," Ryan said, warning council that the city will face late fees and perhaps a lawsuit for failure to pay the debt.
Ryan said he will try again to devise a payment plan that council will approve.
Monday's vote was closer than March 13 when council unanimously rejected a plan that would have transferred $60,000 from street salary funds and $20,000 from street equipment repair to cover the extra expense caused by a harsher-than-normal winter.
This time, Councilwoman Chris Outrakis and Councilman Ray Fabian voted for the proposal but Councilmen George Gulla, Lou Rotunno and Fred Hoffman voted against it.
Gasparich said the city had $140,000 budgeted for winter salt purchases but spent $255,000, with about $50,000 of that coming out of the 2002 budget.
The $68,000 in requested transfers would be enough to cover the rest of the debt, but wouldn't leave any money to buy salt in November and December of this year. That expense will have to come out of the 2004 budget, Gasparich said.
Gulla noted the fund transfer list included $500 from city council's "supplies" line item, and Hoffman noted council wasn't told that any money would be taken from its budget. He also questioned if department heads and others were notified they would be losing some money.
"Everybody has to hurt," Gasparich said, noting transfers were taken from everywhere.
"Not everybody caused the problem," Gulla replied, questioning why the city was unable to live within its budget for the year.
Notification sent
Ryan said later that council was notified in a memo from Gasparich on Feb. 3 that the city had already overspent its salt budget by about $55,000 and budget transfers would be needed to cover the expense.
Ryan had also warned council in December that a bad winter could break the 2003 budget.
Rotunno said he is amazed that the administration was able to come up with $68,000 in the budget that apparently wasn't really needed, and Fabian said it makes it appear that the budget was inappropriately padded.
Hoffman said that, in the past, council has been advised about what the administration is doing, but not in this case.
"It's all about keeping this council informed," he said.
Hoffman also said the overspending on salt pushes the city into violation of its own ordinance limiting spending to no more than 25 percent of its $8 million budget each fiscal quarter.
Outrakis said council members themselves are to blame if they fail to keep abreast of what is happening.
"That door is open upstairs," she said, referring to the mayor's office. She reminded council that the salt bill has to be paid "one way or the other."