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Borough fields further questions about legal fees

LANCASTER TWP — Inquiries about budget costs continued Monday night, with residents asking township leaders more pointed questions about legal fees.

Resident Sandi Cox again drew attention to the $65,000 in legal fees projected for the 2023 fiscal year. These costs, she said, contrast sharply with the expenses of neighboring townships such as Jackson, and they mark only a $10,000 drop from the $75,000 spent on legal fees in 2021.

Jackson Township’s legal fees are projected to reach $20,000 this coming fiscal year.

Cox was not alone in her concern about these figures, which had risen from $15,000 in 2018 to $75,000 in 2021.

“What I noticed on here was the projection from 2021, then ’22 to ’23,” said resident Kathy Tennant. “There is a big difference. I know you’ve had a lawsuit that you’ve settled, but I’m sure you had insurance on that lawsuit. So I was confused about why the increase in legal fees for ’22 and ’23?”

Tennant was referring to a legal battle between the township and the Butler Eagle, which cost the township a $6,500 settlement plus an estimated $5,000 to $10,000 in procedural expense.

“Why was there such a huge increase from ‘21 to ‘22?” she asked.

“We had a department that formed a union, so there were legal fees associated with that,” said Greg Kessler, who serves as supervisors chairman. “There were things that we projected for 2022, such as legal fees, that went beyond what we anticipated when we put the budget together a year ago at this time.”

“Can you tell us what those unexpected things are and what you’re thinking might come up in the future?” asked Cox some minutes later.

“Because everybody keeps whispering this, and I guess I’m the one who’s willing to ask or when is somebody going to label this?” she asked. “Because that’s a considerable amount of money in comparison to other municipalities.”

“I’m not saying I want every single item explained,” she said. “Some discussion is common sense. But there are quite a few. ... You guys went over that budget pretty thoroughly ... I’m sure some of us would like to see a breakdown of some of this stuff.”

2023 budget

The proposed 2023 budget features $1,571,283 in total expenditures, down from $1,725,822 in expenditures in the 2022 budget.

Total revenue in the proposed 2023 budget comes to $1,607,629, which includes no tax increase.

Whereas the 2022 budget projected a deficit of $211,472, the 2023 proposed budget projects a surplus of $36,346. Township manager C. Michael Foote was involved only in the creation of the latter. The 2022 budget was prepared by the township’s interim management.

“There was a wish list of items included in that budget, but we didn’t want to deficit spend. We chose to live within our means,” Foote had said Thursday.

Foote projects a small surplus of about $20,000 will be left at the end of 2022.

Steps toward transparency

Foote agreed to review the budget with Cox if she wished to come by the township office before it advances beyond the proposal stage. Township leaders and residents will discuss further approval of the budget at a meeting Dec. 12.

Resident Steve Pruskowski also asked if township leaders had placed the legal fees in the projected budget up for bid, as they had promised to consider doing, he said. They informed him that they had.

Resident Dean Wack said not everyone has access to digital budget copies when leaders post these online. He said he’d encountered problems reaching leaders at their offices during business hours for previous copies of the budget.

Kessler said the township office had distributed copies and would make sure Wack received a copy.

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