This audit, which is in draft form and is still unavailable for public inspection, will be the main event at the next meeting of City Council's Finance Committee on August 11.
So if the City was $8 million in the red in 2009, how was it able to meet payroll and other operating expenses? By robbing Peter to pay Paul. Let me explain.
Last year, to meet everyday expenses, the City borrowed from something called the non-utility capital account, a fund of about $5.5 million in borrowed money, set aside for capital purchases and improvements. But dipping into that account rendered the City incapable of paying for items vital to public health and safety.
A perfect illustration is a new, 105', aerial fire ladder truck. It was purchased from Glick Fire Equipment Company in October of last year, just in time for Fire Prevention Week. Purchase price? Around $750,000, and $250,000 of that sum was paid immediately in CDBG money. The rest was supposed to come from that non-utility capital account. But because Bethlehem had dipped into that account for operating expenses, the firetruck sat. Firefighters were unable to even train on it, much less put it into use.
When complaints were voiced to City Council, the Fire Commissioner first tried to claim that the truck was not delivered until late November. An Express Times news account, published the previous month, disproves that contention. It actually includes a photo of the new truck.
Then the Fire Commissioner claimed to be waiting for some part, which was news to Glick.
Bethlehem did finally pay for the new firetruck, but not until January, when the casino money came in.
Another example of robbing Peter to pay Paul occurred with a $170,000 ambulance. It was ready in October, but since the non-utility capital fund was being used to pay everyday expenses, it sat unused until April.
Not only is this bad accounting, but it exposes Bethlehem citizens unnecessarily. I'm assuming that the City actually needed that firetruck and ambulance, which do save lives. Their absence could easily have resulted in one more building or life being lost.
When City Council's Finance Committee meets on August 11, they'll be doing more than reviewing a bad audit. They'll also be reviewing a Callahan request to borrow another $6.6 million for that non-utility capital account. Aware that Callahan has been misusing this money for operating expenses, City Council will try to impose tighter controls on just where that money goes.