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Showdown looms over city budget

The Lackawanna City Council has rejected many of Mayor Geoffrey M. Szymanski's budget initiatives, including expansion of the city's payroll, setting up a potential showdown over the 2012-13 budget.

The Council on Saturday unanimously adopted a budget of $23.6 million -- or $816,965 less than the $24.4 million Szymanski proposed spending.

"The majority of this difference can be found in the reduction of additional personnel proposed in departments that we believe are not necessary and the city cannot afford," Council members said in a letter to Szymanski.

The Council eliminated the proposed hires of four public works employees and a police officer, while also dramatically trimming the salaries of two part-time department heads.

Szymanski has 10 days to review the budget and decide if he will veto any of the changes.

The mayor in an interview Monday said he was surprised by the Council's actions, especially the moves to reduce the salaries of longtime department heads Thomas Love, who serves as commissioner of public works, and Robert Marciniak, city comptroller.

Both Love and Marciniak retired and began earning pensions but continued in their posts on a part-time basis, earning less than $30,000 per year in city salary.

Critics have cited the arrangement as a classic case of double dipping, but former Mayor Norman Polanski staunchly defended the deal as a break for taxpayers, saying the city received experienced leadership at less than half the cost of a full-time department head.

Szymanski retained Love and Marciniak following his election last November.

But the Council decided to reduce their salaries to $10,000.

The mayor labeled those moves "reckless." Love already works 40 to 60 hours per week for part-time pay, Szymanski said.

"To expect him to work for that much sounds like they just want him out," he said.

The mayor also criticized the Council for scheduling a meeting at 8 a.m. Saturday to adopt the budget, when they've had his proposal in hand since May 10.

The budget was adopted 5-0 without discussion and the meeting was over within moments of the pledge of allegiance. This budget process is Szymanski's first as mayor.

"What I find most disturbing is they presented the budget at 7:59 when the meeting was scheduled for 8 a.m. So much for transparency," Szymanski said. "We tried telling them it was not a reasonable time to meet."

The Council, which was required by City Charter to adopt a budget by Sunday, met last Tuesday in a lengthy work session, during which they discussed the mayor's spending plan line by line. Some Council members expressed skepticism of the hiring proposals at the work session.

The Council did go along with the mayor's proposal to hire two new firefighters to help reduce overtime in the department. The department is on pace to exceed its overtime budget this year by more than $250,000.

The mayor said the hires in public works and the police would have restored those departments to their full capacities.

The mayor said he will review the council's adopted budget.