Northumberland County commissioners expected to make third budget vote today
SUNBURY - As deadlines for approval near, Northumberland County commissioners will try for the third time to pass a tentative budget for 2014 at their meeting today.
Past sticking points among the commissioners have now become issues within the budget process, and two prior attempts at OK'ing a tentative spending plan of $72.7 million have failed.
Commissioner Chairman Vinny Clausi supports the budget, but has refused to vote in favor because of Richard Shoch's opposition. Clausi said until Shoch brings his own budget proposal to the table, he'll vote no to prove a point, even at the risk of shutting down the government if a budget isn't OK'd by the new year.
Clausi said he returned Sunday from out-of-town work for his construction company and that he would be at today's meeting. But he wouldn't commit as to whether he'd vote to approve the budget.
"As it stands right now, no," he said Monday. "Mr. Shoch has to explain to me first why he didn't come up with his own budget."
Noting, however, the impact a shutdown would have on children and senior citizens and the county's bond rating, Clausi added, "I'm not sure what I'm going to do. There are a lot of things to worry about."
Clausi, who again said Shoch hasn't contributed anything to county government in his two years as commissioner, said the budget was produced by budget director Jeff McClintock, and he trusts his work.
Clausi also cites the effort that went into developing a five-year plan that will keep the county in the black during a difficult time of rising health care insurance and pension costs.
Bridy has been critical of both of his colleagues, more so Shoch, and said citizens expect elected officials to compromise.
As for Shoch, he wonders why Clausi and Bridy suddenly covet his vote.
"They should have the courage to own it (the budget) and should not be seeking participation in its approval from me, a person whose approval and vote they showed no interest in until now," he said.
Commissioners must approve the spending plan, which is slightly less than last year's, at today's 1 p.m. meeting or conduct a special session no later than Dec. 11. That way the budget can be properly advertised and made available for public inspection for 20 days in compliance with county code in time for a final OK by Dec. 31.
Bridy voted to pass the budget at meetings on Nov. 7 and 19. Clausi was not at the second meeting.
Run for judge?
Clausi also accuses Shoch of political posturing with the budget in anticipation of a run for county judge. President Judge Robert B. Sacavage announced recently he plans to retire at the start of the new year.
Shoch, an attorney, said he was asked about running for judge on WKOK radio's "On the Mark" show Nov. 19.
"As I stated on that broadcast, some people have encouraged me to run," he said. "However, I believe we are finally turning the corner on beginning the culture change that is so desperately needed in Northumberland County government and my focus needs to remain on shedding light on the commissioners' office so that people of this county have the information they need to bring true change to the county in 2015."
He said he believes someone can make a "huge difference for the county as a member of its judiciary," and that it's a role that may hold appeal at some time. But, "that time is not now," he said.
Shoch said the only point Clausi is making with his no vote is that he makes his decisions "based on his irrational need to feed his own ego, regardless of the impact on the county, its employees or its citizens."
Shoch said salary cuts of 42 to 48 percent for row officers, which he objected to in the initial proposed budget, have been removed from the latest version due to a court-issued injunction at least temporarily stopping the cuts. But he said it remains to be seen how much money will need to be budgeted for additional legal fees to fight the injunction.
As for another financial matter, upgrades to the 911 system, Shoch claims a review of the original bid compared to the final contract and statements made at public meetings support his contention that Bridy and Clausi approved a contract for the system that includes an additional tower in the northern tier of the county that is not necessary if the county continues to contract with Union County to provide 911 service to that area. He claimed the tower will cost between $400,000 and $500,000.
"This cost is now embedded in the payments that we must now make on the bond that they approved and I voted against," he said. "We can continue to have Union County provide this service for a fraction of what it would cost us to provide staff for the additional tower."
Clausi doesn't argue that the costs are included in the contract. But he said the consultant, Mission Critical Partners Inc., said the seventh tower is needed to make the system as a whole work properly. Also, if Union County cuts its costs in half to $100,000 to provide 911 service as has been suggested, the county could still make up the cost of a $500,000 seventh tower in a matter of five years, Clausi said.