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Baldwin account untouched for decade could find new use

| Wednesday, March 13, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

More than $50,000 left sitting idle in an account for nearly 10 years could be used to help fund Baldwin Borough's five-year capital improvement program — if the initial owners do not step forward to claim the money first.

Baldwin officials plan to seek claims for nearly $55,000 that was placed into an escrow account in the 1990s by businesses or residents as a bond for land development. If no one steps forward within 30 days of the advertisement, borough leaders said, they plan to transfer the funds from the abandoned account to pay for future capital projects.

“It's a significant amount of money,” borough manager John Barrett said.

Council members agreed, in a unanimous vote at their Feb. 19 meeting, to the advertisement of the funds. The borough solicitor is drafting the advertisement, Barrett said.

The money once served as a safety net for construction projects, in case the borough needed to front costs, such as repairing damaged roads, and was to be returned to a developer once the project was completed and an inspection certified that all requirements were met, Barrett said.

“At one time, we asked people to give us cash or a check,” Barrett said.

The borough no longer accepts cash for bonds and instead requires developers to post the money at a third-party company of the developers choosing, Barrett said.

Yet, $54,944.07 has remained in an untouched escrow account, that has been earning minimal interest each month, for as many as 10 years, Barrett said.

The Baldwin manager said there are two reasons the borough could have held the cash: either the developer never sought the return of the money or did not meet the requirement to get the funds back.

Council President David Depretis said, due to bookkeeping issues, money also could have been returned to developers from a different bank account, leaving excess cash in the escrow fund.

Under a previous administration, borough leaders sought legal advice on how to handle the transfer of the funds, Barrett said. No action was taken at that time.

While preparing the 2013 budget, council members repeatedly stated their desire to transfer the money — along with funds in an account specified for grant projects — to use for future capital programs, such as road, building and vehicle improvement projects.

Council members, at the end of 2012, adopted a five-year capital improvement program for 2013 to 2017 that outlines financing for designated purchases and programs in the borough.

Council Vice President Michael Stelmasczyk last month asked officials again to look at the transfer of funds from the escrow and grant accounts to help finance infrastructure improvements.

“I think by now that we should start moving these monies,” he said.

If a developer comes forward to claim the funds, borough officials do have documentation of bond transactions from years ago that they could browse for verification.

“There's a huge file on my desk with a hand-written ledger that's a history of how that came about,” Barrett said. “We'll have to do some archive digging if people come forward to claim this money, to prove what happened years ago.”

Borough leaders also plan to transfer money from a grant fund, totaling nearly $94,000, to help finance the community's five-year capital-improvement program.

The money was placed into the account to finance various grants the borough received, Barrett said. Yet, the projects later were paid for from the borough's general fund.

Stephanie Hacke is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-388-5818 or shacke@tribweb.com.

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