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  • Matthew French

Hellertown Borough's Unfortunate Pattern of Financial Controversy

This opinion piece was submitted by a resident of the community.


In light of recent reports that Hellertown’s police chief Robert Shupp resigned in a cloud of controversy surrounding an investigation into “serious” financial discrepancies, a matter since turned over to the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office, PennLive noted that this 2023 scandal was not the first. Shupp’s immediate predecessor, former Chief Robert Balum, also left amid controversy, resigning in 2009 while his secretary also received a suspension. In Hellertown, the police chief reports to the mayor, while the President of Council and councilmembers oversee the Borough Manager. Unfortunately, Borough officials have still not provided details to the public surrounding this matter.

Most municipalities of this size could operate for many decades without an instance of financial or fiduciary breaches of this magnitude. Sadly, these two most recent controversies are just the tip of the iceberg.

In February 2017, Hellertown Councilmember John M. Bate was charged with overbilling Dewey Fire Company for his work and resigned his council seat. As reported by The Morning Call at the time, “Bate, 57, who was appointed to a council vacancy last year, also stepped down as Hellertown’s emergency management coordinator.” The article went on to state that Bate “was arraigned on Thursday morning on charges of theft, receiving stolen property and misapplication of entrusted property in overbilling the fire company.” In 2018, Bate was cleared of all criminal charges after he agreed to pay back the disputed money.

Prior to that, in 2016, Dewey Fire Company was in the spotlight when it was discovered that Agnes Patterson, longtime treasurer for Dewey, had admitted to stealing more than $395,000 from the Hellertown company. According to The Morning Call reports, “Patterson, 51, of Hellertown is charged with felony counts of theft, access device fraud and misdemeanor charges of misapplication of entrusted property.”

With this as a backdrop, the recent financial disclosures only serve to confirm that Hellertown Borough leadership is broken. Last month, at the September Hellertown Borough Council meeting, the financial audit report for 2022 was released in which it was noted that Hellertown Borough had nearly $2.0 million in outstanding debt, “primarily due to an overall increase in expenditures in 2022.”

These are not isolated cases. They form a clear pattern of mismanagement. The sad reality is Hellertown Borough suffers from lack of competent leadership, given a long string of serious financial and fiduciary missteps, due to lack of proper oversight and irresponsible stewardship of taxpayer funds. Perhaps worst of all, there has been an utter lack of accountability for their behavior. Hellertown residents deserve better from our Mayor and Council members.

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