It's official: Troubled Delco town 'distressed'

Deeply in debt, its tax base depleted, and its government in turmoil, tiny Colwyn Borough was declared "financially distressed" Wednesday by the state in an attempt to remedy the town's financial disarray.

The tiny Delaware County borough - a third of a square mile, 2,500 residents - that borders Philadelphia entered the state's Act 47 program, a last-resort option for struggling municipalities that need help developing a financial-recovery plan.

The decision by Community and Economic Development Secretary Dennis Davin represents a step toward recovery for Colwyn, which has a $1.2 million debt that includes outstanding bills, pension payments, and reimbursements to the state.

The town's total budget is about $2 million, and its property owners are burdened with some of the highest real-estate-tax rates in the region.

Under the program, Colwyn officials will be required to meet with state advisers and an appointed recovery-plan coordinator to receive training on how to manage the borough. Colwyn also will be eligible for loans and grants.

"It's horrible what's happened in Colwyn. It's a mess," said Colwyn Council President Fred Lesher. "This will get us on the right track and out of trouble."

The state's declaration comes amid the borough's rambunctious history, which culminated last month with the public - and contentious - firing of Paula M. Brown, the borough manager, and Dan Rutland, the code-enforcement officer.

After her firing, Brown locked herself in the borough hall for nearly 24 hours in protest. Brown, a former mayor of Darby Borough, had handled the payment of the town's bills, and Colwyn was unable to fuel emergency vehicles for a two-week period.

Investigators from the Delaware County District Attorney's Office have removed boxes of financial records from the town hall.

Tensions have continued to simmer, but the council on Tuesday night held a rare peaceful meeting at which it approved using $25,000 from a previous state grant to hire an interim borough manager, to be named by the state.

Under Act 47, Davin will also appoint a coordinator to draft a recovery plan within 120 days. Colwyn officials still will manage day-to-day affairs.

Colwyn joins 28 other municipalities that have been declared distressed in Pennsylvania since 1987.

Currently, the borough is missing financial records - though town officials disagree about which years are unaccounted for. At the least, some records from 2011, 2012, and 2013 are missing.

Borough records were subpoenaed last year by a grand jury. Although no charges have been filed, the Delaware County District Attorney's Office said last May that it was conducting an investigation.

The borough retained financial consultants this year, paid for by a state grant, but they said they were unable to complete their task because of the missing records. In a report, the consultants described Colwyn's government as "ineffective at best."

Borough officials such as Lesher attribute the borough's disarray to "petty politics" on the seven-member council.

Brown has alleged that some council members used borough money for personal expenses.

"This is all very embarrassing," said Mayor Michael Blue. "We need this help - the people of Colwyn are sick of it."

 


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