HAZLETON, Pa. - Imagine a holiday season without a paycheck? It's a very real possibility for employees of the city of Hazleton.
The city says as of Friday it is going to run out of money to pay staff. Officials say the city is a half million dollars short to make payroll after Friday.
The financial crisis stems from a storm management maintenance fee that was never approved by the city council.
While Christmas decorations may deck the halls of Hazleton's City Hall, this could be a bah humbug holiday for city clerk Lisa Schema.
"It's not a good time this year. Especially important with Christmas coming up, end of the year bills, not a good thing right now," the seven-and-a-half-year employee said.
Schema and 100 other city employees could be affected, with around 50 possibly being laid off Friday.
"Come the end of the year we are $500,000 short," Mayor Joe Yannuzzi stated.
Yannuzzi says the budget bust stems from city council not enacting a storm management maintenance fee.
"Had the ordinance in front of them, stalled in September. They had the fee in front of them, stalled till December," he went on to say.
The president of the council says the mayor never indicated not enacting the $25 to $60 fee would result in layoffs.
"There is a lack of communication between council and the administration and I think that's part of the problem," Schema said.
Fire, emergency management crews and police would all work for free, getting back pay when money becomes available.
"There is not a member who will bat an eye. They will be here, no threats of layoffs or people calling in sick," Hazleton Police Chief Frank DeAndrea said.
However a silver lining could be on the horizon. A council meeting is set for Thursday, which could avert a Christmas calamity for those like Schema.
"I got heating bills too, the price of oil. I didn't think it would get this far," Schema said.
If the maintenance fee is passed Thursday, Mayor Yannuzzi said a bank loan will be used to pay employees, with the collateral being money generated from the storm management fee ordinance.
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