Johnstown Officials Seek Answer To Budget Crunch
JOHNSTOWN, Pa. (AP) _ A court order has raised hopes of reaching a compromise in a budget dispute that has idled most of this depressed steel town’s police, firefighters and other employees since Jan. 1.
City Council on Friday agreed to abide by a judge’s order not to enact a budget over the mayor’s veto until at least Wednesday.
″This gives us time to negotiate to see what we can come up with in an impartial setting,″ said city attorney Richard Green.
Because of a stalemate between the mayor and the City Council over layoffs and fee increases, the town entered the new year without a budget and no money in its coffers.
Some police officers, firefighters and other municipal employees walked out rather than work without pay.
State troopers are patrolling the streets, and the Fire Department is at half strength. Snow removal and other chores are being done by private contractors.
Mayor Herbert Pfuhl had vetoed a $7.25 million budget passed unanimously by the nine-member council on Dec. 31 and sued to put into law his own $6.7 million package cutting the city’s workforce of nearly 200 almost in half.
The council’s spending plan called for a cut of 44 jobs and higher garbage collection and sewer fees.
Cambria County Judge Clifford McWilliams on Friday barred the council from overriding the veto and ordered the two sides to return to court Wednesday. He said the two sides need more time to bargain.
City officials also said they are trying to get a $1.6 million loan to keep Johnstown, a city of 35,000 residents, in business.
″We’re out of money,″ said city finance director Calvin McCracken. ″We can be back to normal as soon as we get the tax anticipation loan. It will enable us to operate until tax revenues start coming in.″
Johnstown, noted for three killer floods and the collapse of its steel industry, had a $2 million budget shortfall at the beginning of the year. The biggest loss was $900,000 in lost federal revenue sharing.