City Council not ready to tap trust fund – yet

Vote to withdraw $2.25 million fails 5-2, but will be revisited

By Kathleen Brady Shea, Managing Editor, The Times

Coatesville City Councilmen Jeff LoPrinzi (left) and Jarrell Brazzle listen during discussion of the city’s dire financial straits.

A vote to tap Coatesville’s dwindling trust fund to meet expenses failed Monday night 5-2, and an effort to convince a former police-chief candidate to reconsider heading the city’s troubled department fizzled.

Council members Ingrid Jones and Joseph Hamrick grudgingly supported the trust fund withdrawal of $2.25 million. Other members acknowledged the inevitability of such a move but said they wanted more information.

At a work session last week,  Finance Director John Marcarelli presented a budget overview to illustrate where the most sizable overruns had occurred, citing the police department – plagued by overtime, unbudgeted expenses, and litigation –  pension costs, and shortfalls in fine and permit fees. He estimated an additional $75,000 would be needed for various legal costs before year’s end.

But Councilman Jarrell Brazzle noted that $25,000 in legal fees was paid last month to the city’s special counsel, Siana Bellwoar . “Twenty-five thousand dollars to one law firm in one month?” Brazzle asked incredulously.

Although two police lawsuits have been settled this year, one remains unresolved, another is reportedly pending, and a third is threatened, attorneys have said.

“I honestly think your numbers are off,”  Councilman Jeff LoPrinzi said to Marcarelli.

Councilwoman C. Arvilla Hunt also questioned the figures. “We’re trying to get a handle on the spending,” she said. “Who’s to say the information is correct?”

Council President David C. Collins said he is tired of hearing the same refrain about the city’s dire financial straits without formulating a plan for  corrective action. He said 75 percent of the trust fund, which started at $39 million after the city sold its water and sewer company in 2000, has been depleted.

“I think we need to stop fooling ourselves that next year is going to be different … We’re seriously hemorrhaging money,” Collins said, directing City Manager Kirby Hudson and Marcarelli to “go much deeper” with spending cuts. “We have to be tough; we’re out of cash.”

Brazzle said he wanted a breakdown of “where every cent is going to go.” He said if he is satisfied with the numbers, he will vote to release the funds at the next meeting.

 Councilman Ed Simpson requested an update on accusations presented by Collins at last week’s meeting that seven police officers had inappropriately used their uniform allowance to upgrade their city-issued Androids to iPhones. Collins, Hudson, and Interim Chief James Bell all said the allegations resulted from an accounting error that has since been corrected.

Hunt lashed out at the media for suggesting that she voted on Sept. 10  against hiring  Maj. John “Jack” W. Laufer III, a veteran of the state police, to head the department because she preferred Bell. “I have never asked for him [Bell] to be full-time … and I was not against Mr. Laufer,” she said, insisting that she was just trying to save the city some money. Bell earns about $15,000 less than Laufer would have made.

Laufer withdrew his name after the 3-1 vote, which failed because it did not constitute a majority. Since then, Hudson said he was urged by council members to hand-deliver letters to Laufer from the FOP and council members, urging him to reconsider. But Hudson said he only got two council letters.

Simpson said that he and Hamrick submitted letters to Hudson and that Jones mailed one to Laufer.

Last week, Councilman Jeff LoPrinzi said he believed a misunderstanding occurred about the reconsideration strategy, which he planned to try and resurrect at Monday night’s executive session, an initiative that did not occur.

After the meeting, LoPrinzi said he changed his mind, citing both the need to institute internal policy changes in the police department before bringing in a new leader and the short-term opportunity to save money.

Hudson said he has been working on “Plan B” to get the police department permanent leadership, but had not yet had an opportunity to discuss it with council.




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  1. Wow Coatesville says:

    Wow! I know of legal support available to the city for free! The only requirement is complete transparency.

    • EX Coatesvillian says:

      City Council has learned its lesson when they engaged ‘FREE’ Forensic Audit support and wound up on the front page of the area newspapers with reports of (a few Council members, personal) failure to pay their Solid Waste Bills. Ouch!

      Council has learned that if you pay for services you have the power to direct the investigation and pull the data that you’d rather not expose. Much, much safer! And after all… isn’t their money that’s paying for legal services.

      Council will NOT make the ‘get free services mistake’ again! After all they live here. They need to make sure that they are NOT on the front page of the local newspapers again for an ‘Ooops’ that was initially overlooked and then dug up by some volunteer do-gooder!

      • Wow Coatesville says:

        Yeah I know all about that too. Not quite what I’m talking about. Not an audit but a true resource they can consult with for the purpose of decision making.

        • EX Coatesvillian says:

          That’s how the volunteer forensic auditor arrived at City Hall and it was all down hill from there (per Council’s viewpoint).
          A volunteer w/ legal expertise may be willing to give free legal advice, but the City has learned: paid professionals are easier to manipulate.
          Council spent $50K on Special Legal last year and they never read Special Legals reports or were willing to have him come to City Hall to give a verbal report.
          What does that tell you?
          Are they afraid that ‘IF’ they hear about unethical behavior that would lead to termination (per the Code Book) that they’d be guilty of malfeasance?
          Council isn’t going there!

  2. EX Coatesvillian says:

    My guess: the Special Legal fees are not from one month. These are likely to be several (many) months worth of invoices that kept being put on the bottom of the pile! Special Legal may have refused to provide services until their past due invoices were paid.

    EIT is coming in from the 2nd Quarter and the squeaky wheels are getting paid. Besides, City Management knows that they need to keep Special Legal happy 😉

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