|ABOUT THE DEPARTMENT | NEWS | AUDITOR GENERAL HOTLINE | CONTACT | JOIN | FAQS|
Auditor General Jack Wagner’s Special Investigation Finds Two Starrucca Borough Councilmen Gain In Buck Road Bridge Renovation Project
Project Approved Despite Cost to Taxpayers and Other Borough Needs
HARRISBURG (August 4, 2009) – Auditor General Jack Wagner said today that a special investigation found that two council members in the Borough of Starrucca, Wayne County, were the primary beneficiaries of a council decision to secure a $70,000 loan to renovate a seldom used bridge, without regard to other borough needs or the cost to borough taxpayers.
Wagner’s investigators found that Council President Kirk Rhone and Councilman Robert Buck voted to replace the Buck Road Bridge, a dilapidated three-ton capacity bridge across the Starrucca Creek on farmland owned by the two councilmen, with a modern 21-ton capacity bridge. They also voted to use up most of the borough’s limited borrowing power to finance the project. The bridge renovation project was completed in July 2008.
The report recommends that borough council seek reimbursement from both councilmen for the costs of the project. Copies of the report were sent to various state and federal government agencies for review and possible further action, including to the State Ethics Commission for a determination of whether the councilmen’s actions constituted a conflict of interest under state law.
“Elective office must not be used for one’s own personal benefit,” Wagner said. “The actions of these two councilmen severely strained the borough’s financial resources and may result in an increased tax burden on all borough residents. All public officials in the borough must act solely in the best interest of the taxpayers.”
The Buck Bridge is located near the beginning of an unpaved lane known as Buck Road that originates and runs through a tract of land owned by the two councilmen known as the Buck Farm. Only the first 500 yards of Buck Road is located in Starrucca Borough; the road extends another 1.3 miles through the part of the Buck Farm located in Thompson Township, Susquehanna County, where it abruptly ends. At one time, the lane extended an additional 1.4 miles to connect with Pa. Route 171, but this section was long ago declared by Thompson Township to be “useless, burdensome, and unnecessary” and was officially vacated. The vacated section is routed through the Dr. Shelley Nature Preserve, making the connection of Buck Road to any other public highway impossible.
Investigators found that Starrucca borough council action to borrow $70,000 for the project used up over 70 percent of the borough’s limited borrowing power when a more urgent project, the repair of the Shadigee Creek flood wall to protect the health, safety, and welfare of the entire community, was deferred indefinitely after federal funding fell through. The repair of the flood wall will cost $124,600, according to a contractor’s proposal submitted in 2005.
Moreover, the investigation found that the borough council completed the bridge project even though the borough was in such a precarious financial condition that it was unable to pay a $600 debt for fire protection services to neighboring Thompson Township in 2006; had expenditures exceeding revenues by more than $11,000 in 2006; and despite significant public opposition to funding the project with taxpayer money. The fact that the two councilmen contributed $8,000 in personal funds to the project, and that the borough’s federal emergency management agent solicited at least one additional donation, demonstrated that those officials realized that the borough could not afford the project.
Wagner’s Office of Special Investigations initiated the investigation after receiving a referral from Wayne County District Attorney Michael Lehutsky of citizen complaints regarding the controversial bridge replacement project.
In addition to urging the borough to seek reimbursement from those who benefitted from the bridge project, Wagner recommended that the borough refrain from any future projects that do not benefit the entire community or that are beyond the financial capability of the borough. He also recommended that the borough comply with the requirements of state and local ethics rules regarding conflicts of interest.
Wagner said he will follow up at the appropriate time to determine whether all of his department’s recommendations have been implemented.
A complete copy of the investigation report can be obtained at www.auditorgen.state.pa.us.
Auditor General Jack Wagner is responsible for ensuring that all state money is spent legally and properly. He is the Commonwealth’s elected independent fiscal watchdog, conducting financial audits, performance audits and special investigations. The Department of the Auditor General conducts more than 5,000 audits per year. To learn more about the Department of the Auditor General, taxpayers are encouraged to visit the department’s Web site at www.auditorgen.state.pa.us
Home | About | News | Hotline | Contact | Join | FAQ