Budget, tax hike approved Clausi and Shoch clash verbally over other issues
SUNBURY - The Northumberland County 2013 budget was passed with no arguments Thursday afternoon, but Commissioners Vinny Clausi and Rick Shoch clashed later in the meeting.
The $82.3 million final budget with a 2.5-mill increase was adopted, with Commissioners Clausi and Stephen Bridy voting in favor while Shoch voted against it.
There was no discussion during the meeting on separate motions to adopt the budget and tax increase. However, Shoch said later that his reasons for voting against the budget remain the same as what he said earlier.
Schoch previously said he couldn't "in good conscience" vote for a budget that increases taxes and debt burden until Clausi reimburses the taxpayers or puts in escrow a combined $6.7 million for what he described as his "excessive and unnecessary costs associated with the secretive, belligerent and self-absorbed style of governance."
The budget includes $10 million for a capital improvement project involving federal-mandated upgrades to the county 911 communications center that must be completed by Dec. 31, 2013.
The projected 11 percent property tax increase is expected to generate $1.85 million since one mill is equivalent to $740,000. But commissioners noted the collection rate for each mill usually comes out to $700,000 because some people don't pay their taxes.
Total millage increases from 20.318 to 22.818, which would remain the same for at least the next three years under a financial plan outlined in June by Clausi. He said at an earlier meeting if the county did not raise taxes and borrow money, it would have a $40 million deficit by 2022 because health care, pension contributions, salaries and other costs continue to rise.
When the commissioners moved to old business, Shoch brought up two issues that caused Clausi to grow angry and call for the "mudslinging" to stop.
Shoch first claimed his fellow commissioners may have violated the Sunshine Act by conducting a press conference at the administration center to request assistance from the FBI in an investigation involving fired Point Township policeman Wade Lytle, who became involved in a romantic relationship with the alleged victim of a rape committed in Point Township.
He asked Clausi whether the press conference was called in Clausi's capacity as a commissioner or Northumberland County resident, but Clausi wouldn't respond.
Instead, Clausi pounded the gavel and said, "I make a motion to move on," and Bridy agreed.
Following the meeting, Shoch explained that Clausi might have violated the law if he called the conference as a commissioner. If Clausi called the conference as a citizen, Shoch said he should not be utilizing county resources and employees.
After the meeting when Clausi was contacted via phone, he said the conference was called because the district attorney was involved and he didn't want the county to be sued.
"If we violated the Sunshine Law, I don't care. I was doing what was right for the taxpayers. He (Shoch) can mumbo and jumbo all he wants. I don't care," Clausi said.
Shoch's second issue was that Clausi previously referenced a recording of a personal telephone conversation between Shoch and an individual, and Shoch asked Clausi why he didn't report the illegal wiretapping if he was aware of a crime.
Clausi said he never said it was illegal wiretapping, and then pounded the gavel and made a motion to move forward with the meeting, which was seconded by Bridy.
Following the meeting, Shoch explained the conversation in question was between him and Dave Kaleta, the former president of Habitat for Wildlife who opposes the Anthracite Outdoor Adventure Area.
He said if Clausi has a tape of the conversation, why didn't he report that to the authorities, asked whether Clausi directed the conversation to be taped and whether other conversations had been recorded.
Following the meeting via phone, Clausi repeated that he hadn't performed any wiretapping nor had he even listened to a recording.
"If he (Shoch) has any evidence of wiretapping, tell him to bring the evidence forward," he said.
Salary board issues
The issues between the commissioners didn't stop when the regular meeting was adjourned, but continued into the salary board meeting.
There was an action item to approve a 2.5 percent increase to all non-bargaining unit employees who received a pay increase in 2012, and a 5 percent increase to 11 employees who opted out of a salary increase for 2012.
The increase equals approximately $80,000, Clausi said.
Shoch started to question Gary Steffen, chief clerk, but Clausi cut him off and told him the discussion was better suited for an executive session.
"We will not embarrass employees. That is my rule," Clausi said.
"You don't get to make the rules. This is a three-member board," Shoch fired back.
Following the meeting, Shoch said he didn't think Steffen knew what his job entailed because Steffen was not returning e-mails in a timely manner to him and criticized Steffen in his involvement in a memo from July.
The memo, signed by Clausi, stated that department heads and employees who were uncomfortable with talking to one commissioner at a time could have Steffen present.
"The chief clerk is going to keep me in line? I don't think so. Until he understands what his job is, I will not vote for an increase for him," Shoch said after the meeting.
When questioned following the meeting via phone, Clausi said he wouldn't address any more issues that Shoch had during the meeting other than the Sunshine Act violations and accusations of illegal wiretapping.
"I'm not going to let him drag me into mudslinging. I was elected to lead and that's it. I will not respond no more to him," he said.
Despite Shoch's protests, the increase was approved with Clausi, Bridy and Controller Tony Phillips voting for it and Shoch voting against it.
Shoch also voted against motions to create a probation officer intern position for adult probation and to change John Muncer's position from part-time assistant solicitor to full-time assistant solicitor.
Clausi said there needs to be an attorney in the county building at all times with "Shoch saying we're violating the Sunshine Act all the time."
Shoch then said Clausi was using the solicitors for his own personal business, and Clausi again called for no more mudslinging.
"This is nonsense. Take some medicine. Something is wrong with you," Clausi said.
"How ironic," Shoch replied.
Following the passage of those votes, Clausi got into an argument with Kevin Gilroy, county treasurer, over an additional increase above the 5 percent.
A motion was on the agenda to increase the salary of the first deputy treasurer from $34,446 to $37,446, but Clausi said the first deputy treasurer was already getting a raise of 2.5 percent, which was approved earlier in the meeting.
He asked why the first deputy treasurer should get receive an additional reaise when employees who worked in the county for 30 years weren't getting additional raises.
Gilroy said the first deputy treasurer deserved the raise for the hard work, and started arguing with Clausi.
Clausi then threatened to reduce the hours required to work in the treasurer's office, thus decreasing the overall take-home pay. It had been previously decided to increase the work week from 33 hours to 37 hours.
"Don't bully me," Gilroy said, but then withdrew his request for the increase.
County Register and Recorder Mary Zimmerman also withdrew her requests for an increase from $32,670 to $35,170 for the first deputy register and recorder and from $29,473 to $31,273 for the second deputy register and recorder.