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October 26, 2013

Borough pulls out of Westmont Hilltop Recreation Commission

JOHNSTOWN — A brouhaha over Westmont Hilltop Recreation Commission’s refusal to complete an audit on its 2012 books has led Southmont Borough to withdraw from the regional organization and is raising questions about the future of a popular recreation venue.

Southmont officials last week sent letters suggesting that The Ridge complex be offered for sale to the public, with proceeds divided between Southmont, Westmont, Upper Yoder Township and Westmont Hilltop School District.

Those four entities have made up the recreation commission since it was formed 30 years ago.

The breakup continues a series of events that began with a Southmont Borough Council resolution in February requiring all entities accepting borough taxpayers’ money this year to have their books audited for 2012 and all future years.

Letters went out in April to the recreation commission, Southmont Volunteer Fire Company, Cambria County Library and Community Arts Center of Cambria County asking each for the 2012 audit or a response showing it would be completed.  

Another letter was sent May 31 to the recreation commission, repeating the borough’s plan to withdraw its participation if there was no audit or plans for an audit by June 30.

About a week before the deadline, commission chairman and Upper Yoder Township Supervisor Joseph Veranese told The Tribune-Democrat that the audit’s estimated $5,000 price tag could crimp day-to-day operations.

The commission has an annual budget of about $200,000, Veranese said at the time. But much of the revenue is reserved for payroll, utilities and other ongoing expenses.

“If you look at the unrestricted funds in our budget, that $5,000 is a lot of money,” Veranese said. “It’s a lot of money for anybody.”

Southmont’s annual contribution is about $15,000, including an allocation of $11,300 and nearly $4,000 in “in-kind services,” Borough Manager Rich Wargo said.

Without an audit or any formal plans for the report, Southmont’s council voted to discontinue its participation in the commission, notifying all participating bodies on July 19. The withdrawal is effective on Dec. 31, and the borough agreed to make its final 2013 payment in December, as usual.

Last week’s letter drafted by borough Solicitor Michael A. Carbonara asks the other governing organizations for suggestions on the future of The Ridge.

The 62-acre complex off Route 271 in Upper Yoder Township includes a large pavilion with nine picnic tables, four smaller pavilions, a basketball court, volleyball court, softball field, hiking trail and children’s play area.

It is managed by the recreation commission, but is owned by the three municipalities and the school district, Carbonara said.

“We are asking all the other municipalities: What is your position?” Carbonara said. “We want to know what you are going to do.”

Veranese admits the commission never voted whether or not to have an audit, but suggests the financial review is not the real issue.

“They made it very clear they were not going to stay with the commission,” Veranese said.

“Nobody’s against an audit. We agree it is a prudent move.”

Although he did not address The Ridge’s future, Veranese said the commission has discussed expanding its base to include more organizations.

“We have been talking about life after Southmont for several months now,” Veranese said.

The recreation committee is holding a special meeting of the executive committee at 6 p.m. Monday, followed at 7 by a meeting of the full commission.

Both meetings are at The Grove on Edgehill Drive.

Randy Griffith covers Southmont for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/photogriffer57.

 

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