At a time when Allentown’s police department is under-staffed and the city needs another ambulance, City Council member Jeanette Eichenwald wants to know what city officials did with large amounts of cash that were supposed to be used by the police and fire departments.
Saying she was raising a budget concern, on Wednesday night Eichenwald told City Council she has learned “a large sum of money” from the police department budget “was transferred back to the city.”
Eichenwald said Allentown has only 201 police officers, the lowest number in several years – implying that missing money could have been used to hire more cops. The city’s police department is considered at full strength when it has 216 officers.
She wants to know how much money was transferred from the police department, why and “for what purpose was it then used?”
Eichenwald said a half million dollars also was transferred back to the city from the fire department’s budget.
She has the same questions about that transfer.
Seeking clarification, council president Julio Guridy asked: “When you say transferred back to the city, you mean back to the general fund?” She confirmed that’s what she meant.
She said Robert Scheirer, the city’s former fire chief, wanted to have another EMS ambulance operating at night “because we are grossly understaffed in the evening and people’s lives are in danger.”
She said the city fire department faces “a struggling budgetary situation,” later adding Scheirer told her about the $500,000 transfer before he retired in January.
She explained she learned about the police department transfer more recently, noting “I have it on good authority.” She did not mention any figures regarding the amount the police department might have lost.
“I could understand that if we were flush with money,” said Eichenwald.
“I’d certainly like to know more about this accusation,” said council member Peter Schweyer, who chairs its budget & finance committee. “We did not pass any transfers that I know of for this.”
Offering “a point of information,” Schweyer said: “Just so we’re using the same language, fire/police is part of the general fund.”
Clarifying, Eichenwald said it involved transfers of money in line items designated for the police and fire departments.
“To unappropriated balance?” asked Schweyer.
“That’s what I’m thinking,” said Guridy.
Eichenwald told Francis Dougherty, the city’s managing director, she would like him to answer her questions by the July 16 meeting of council’s public safety committee, which she chairs.
She told Dougherty both transfers occurred last year.
Schweyer also suggested City Controller Mary Ellen Koval should look into the matter and “shine a light on it.”
Guridy asked Koval to get that information to City Council before the next meeting of its finance committee at 5:30 p.m. June 25.
After the council meeting, Schweyer said he doesn’t know the basis for Eichenwald’s assertion, “but I look forward to any information that comes from the administration and the city controller.”
The finance committee chairman said he checks the budgets for both the police and fire department. “To my knowledge, we haven’t transferred money out of those departments.”