Grayson says education, experience prepare him for role as fiscal watchdog
By Justin Strawser
Christopher Grayson said a political decision he made in 2011 bothered him for two years.
The 42-year-old Mount Carmel resident said he was considering a bid for Northumberland County controller. Chuck Erdman had left the position for a state job, and acting controller Tony Phillips was running for election without opposition to finish out the last two years of Erdman's term.
Grayson ultimately decided not to run, but he was left with too many "what-ifs."
"That decision bothered me," he said during a campaign interview with The News-Item.
Grayson earned a Bachelor of Science degree in accounting from the Weis School of Business at Susquehanna University and worked two years in Harrisburg with KPMG, an international accounting firm, where he audited records for clients that included manufacturing companies and county governments - including Northumberland County.
After two years, however, he had the opportunity to purchase the family business, Ye Olde Butcher Shop, in Mount Carmel, so he returned to his hometown and has been running the business for the past 18 years.
Also, he has been tax collector in Mount Carmel for the past eight years.
Grayson said the collection of experience he's had would bode well if he were to become the county's fiscal watchdog.
"When I look at my history, I have a lot of qualifications" for the controller's position, he said. "Why didn't I run?" he said he asked himself repeatedly.
In 2013, he didn't let the opportunity pass, and he won the unopposed Democratic nomination in the spring to face Phillips on Nov. 5
Borough cut salary
While controller was the only office spared in the county's recent decision to cut row office and commissioners' salaries by 42 to 48 percent, Grayson has already experienced his own salary cut.
In January, Mount Carmel Borough Council reduced the salary of borough tax collector by $20,000, saying it wasn't fair that the borough's contribution per tax bill was at least four times higher than that of the Mount Carmel Area School District and the county.
Grayson fought against the reduction, saying he put a lot of time into the job and went out of his way to better serve taxpayers. At a Jan. 31 meeting at which he was trying to convince council members they wouldn't get a candidate at the proposed new rate, council members said they had a candidate who would run. With that, Grayson ended the debate, and said he wouldn't seek another term.
He said, however, that the Mount Carmel situation did not influence his decision to run for controller, citing his past desire to seek the post.
As for county commissioners voting to keep the controller's salary at $56,676 while the others dropped to about $31,000, Grayson said he wasn't sure why that happened. But, "To not change that one salary certainly raised a flag," he said.
He said it speaks to the issue that the controller must remain independent.
"The controller works for the taxpayers. You don't work for another row officer or the commissioners," he said. "There has to be a clear line of independence."
In making a second point about independence, Grayson said he has neither been endorsed nor received financial support from any current commissioner.
As for the fact that all row officers must now contribute 50 percent of the county's cost toward health insurance, Grayson said he doesn't know whether he'd sign up for the county's plan. He is currently covered by his wife's insurance.
Grayson said the controller should be full time, but he said it's premature to make a decision on what would happen to his butcher business if he were to win election.
As tax collector, he said he works 40 hours a week on average, including helping taxpayers at his business, but also assists people during off-hours.
Comparatively, according to information provided by the tax assessor's office, out of 36 tax collectors in Northumberland County, only Shamokin and Sunbury tax collectors have eight-hour days every weekday, while the majority of other tax collectors are only available certain days of the week for a short time period of time, or they are available by appointment only.
'More important things'
While Grayson doesn't personally know any of the commissioners, he said he is aware of the disagreements that occur during public meetings and some of the financial hardships the county has faced in the last few years.
"I would like to do whatever I can to help the county get back on some smooth road here, a road to prosperity again," he said.
He likened it to sports. He said an athlete might not get along with everyone on the team, but in the end they all have the same goal.
"There are more important things to achieve here," he said.
Grayson, a borough native, moved back to Mount Carmel in 1995. He and his wife, Jennifer, have been married for nine years. Grayson is a member of the Anthracite Steam and Clover Hose fire companies and the West End Athletic Club. He is a former coach of the Mount Carmel Area elementary wrestling program.