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More bad news for troubled Delco borough

Just when things in Colwyn appeared to be turning around, the tiny Delaware County borough has returned to its normal status: chaos.

Just when things in Colwyn appeared to be turning around, the tiny Delaware County borough has returned to its normal status: chaos.

On Monday, Pennsylvania Auditor General Eugene DePasquale said audits of the borough fire company's relief association uncovered nearly $90,000 in unauthorized and undocumented spending. As a result, state funds for the volunteer organization have been put on hold.

The news comes two weeks after Colwyn's council appeared to make strides toward recovery by approving a financial plan from the state, yet its implementation remains uncertain. Still needing the signature of Colwyn's mayor, the plan for now is unenforceable.

The issues, though unrelated, underscore the challenges in turning around the troubled municipality of 0.3 square miles.

Allegations of problematic spending, some from years ago, still haunt Colwyn. And even as progress is made, many officials are slow to accept it.

The council on Nov. 30 approved a 122-page financial recovery plan from Econsult Solutions, a Philadelphia-based firm commissioned by the state. Its recommendations included hiring a borough manager, pursuing an interest-free state loan, and eliminating stipends for Colwyn's council members and mayor.

The plan was approved by only three members of the council. President Fred Lesher abstained, citing the need to prevent a "state takeover."

"I'm not going for that crap," Lesher said Monday. "I don't want to give any credence or support to a group of people who want to come in and control Colwyn Borough."

The plan awaits a signature from Mayor Michael Blue, said Stephen Mullin, president of Econsult.

"It's in limbo right now," Mullin said, adding that he expects more clarity this week. Blue was not available for comment Monday.

As for the fire department relief association, Colwyn will not receive this year's state allocation of $10,386 - money that typically pays for equipment, training, and some benefits.

State audits revealed that nearly $60,000 was spent on "undocumented expenses," including nearly $20,000 in cash withdrawals. According to the audit, an additional $32,000 was spent on "unauthorized expenses," including more than $10,000 in payments for property taxes.

"We have no other choice than to withhold additional state financial assistance until those issues are resolved," DePasquale said in a statement.

The fire company - and the borough itself - is under investigation by the Delaware County District Attorney's Office.

"The volunteer firefighter relief association is in such serious, long-term turmoil that residents could lose their nearby fire protection," DePasquale said.