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Hazleton city government starts new year off with friction

Hazelton city government starts new year off with friction

HAZLETON, LUZERNE COUNTY (WOLF) -- The first business day of 2018 was met with arguments Tuesday morning between Hazleton City Council and the mayor, Jeff Cusat.

"The mayor is the executive branch but he is not the sole leader of the city government. It's the council and the mayor, not just the mayor," said Hazleton resident Mark Rabl, who attended today's meeting.

Three new council members were sworn in, taking on a looming budget due in less than six weeks.

"We're going to sit down with city departments. We'll have a great relationship with them, you know, the police, the fire, the code, along with the mayor, the solicitor, and we're going to work together as a team to move forward," said newly elected council Vice President Allison Barletta.

But a good portion of today's meeting was spent arguing back and forth about the meeting schedule itself.

We asked council if they felt the friction would hinder their ability to move forward.

"I just think actually people just got caught off guard, but of course, here we are, we're going to work together, we're going to come back tomorrow and sit down with a schedule," said Barletta, referring to the mayor and solicitor presenting their schedule availability.

The new budget must address the city's financial distress status, state-declared under act 47 last fall.

Council member Bob Gavio says the city had to borrow $850,000 last year or risk city employees not being paid.

"Nobody's always right and nobody's always wrong. We have to pick out the right in everybody, regardless of inhibition, with a collective think, to move the city ahead because we really are in a tough situation. It's not a good time for any of us to be on city council," he said.

According to a state audit, the city's deficit increased over 361% from 2016 to 2017.

Now the council must decide if taxes will increase for Hazleton residents, and if they'll consider the mayor's proposal to sell the city's water and sewer authority.

Council plans to meet again Wednesday.

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