As tempers flare in public meeting, Catasauqua Council promises 'the truth' from independent audit
In its first meeting since borough tax bills went out raising property taxes more than 100%, Catasauqua Borough Council faced the wrath of the public Monday.
The meeting at times devolved into shouting matches between members of the public and elected officials.
- Casauqua recently avoided financial crisis by raising property taxes 103%
- Residents are outraged, and one asked if the town spent more than $2 million dollars in borrowed money on the Iron Works project. No answer was given
- An independent audit is in the works, which Borough Council President Brian Bartholomew promised will contain "the truth of everything that has happened"
During the meeting's public comment segment, one resident asked if there was a way for people on a fixed income to pay the taxes over time.
She was told the town's computer system wasn't equipped to handle that.
'Let's move on here'
Former Councilman Vince Smith asked the board whether money from a loan was used to overspend millions of dollars on the proposed Iron Works project.
That project — which envisions turning the former FLSmidth site into boutique retail stores and restaurants, with cobblestone walkways with a European feel, a farmers’ market and an urban park-like public gathering space — has not started.
After the board redirected Smith to the finance department, he accused members of deflecting the blame.
After a brief shouting match that included accusations of "grandstanding" and being "argumentative," it was deflated with a comment of "let's move on here."
Later in the meeting, responding to Smith, borough Treasurer Catherine VanDyne, who assumed her role in September, said, "I was not here, I was given this mess."
"And to tell you the truth, I've never seen anything like it in my 20 plus years of financing," VanDyne said.
"I'm from Massachusetts. We did things differently there. We weren't allowed to spend more than what was budgeted. I was just so shocked when I saw the numbers."
Audit on its way
VanDyne confirmed the largest part of the borough's recent spending was the Iron Works project, but didn't confirm whether loan money was used to pay for it.
Officials said word on that will come with the 2022 audit.
Council President Brian Bartholomew promised the audit will present "the truth" and will be fully accessible to the public.
"All board members and the mayor are working to reveal the truth of everything that's happened in this community," Bartholomew said.
"I'd like to see when all these audits are finished, a comprehensive report, in layman's terms for any person in this community to see just where and why taxes were raised, and a short summary of where we're going. The truth."
There was no word on when the audit will be released, but Bartholomew said he plans to finish this contract with the independent audit company, which expires in 2024, then find a new one.
The reason, he said, is because the company refuses to present its findings publicly in a council meeting.