Shoch stalls budget vote in Northumberland County; special meeting called
SUNBURY - Northumber-land County commissioners failed Tuesday afternoon to pass a preliminary 2013 budget that calls for a 2.5-mill increase in the general fund, prompting a special meeting Thursday.
In the latest example of discontent between the commissioners, Stephen Bridy, who was appointed chairman of the board until Vinny Clausi recovers from recent surgery, made a motion to approve next year's $73 million spending plan, but Richard Shoch failed to second the motion, and it died.
Clausi was unable to attend the meeting due to a doctor's appointment related to his Nov. 21 surgery. He hadn't planned to be back in Sunbury until later this month anyway, although he has been conducting county business via cell phone.
But when he got word Tuesday afternoon that the budget vote stalled, putting the county in jeopardy of not meeting the Dec. 31 deadline for final approval, he put in motion steps to get the special meeting advertised. It's set for 11 a.m. Thursday.
The preliminary budget must be advertised for 20 days before a final budget can be approved.
Last week, Shoch said in an e-mail that he recognizes the increase in county costs in many areas, coupled with the county's existing debt burden, necessitate an increase in taxes. But the commissioner said he couldn't "in good conscience" vote for any budget that results in an increase in taxes and debt burden until Clausi reimbursed the county's taxpayers and put 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."
Clausi said by phone Tuesday that Shoch had been in favor of the five-year county budget plan unveiled this spring, but has now changed his mind on next year's budget over "bogus allegations."
Clausi said the budget must be passed on time to prevent the county from not being able to distribute funding and pay its employees. Despite his painful recovery, he said he'll be at Thursday's meeting, and the press conference he called today to reply to Shoch, "if I have to crawl."
Bridy, Shoch debate
Bridy told Shoch at Tuesday's meeting that his refusal to pass the budget means the county will need to spend money to advertise for a special meeting. Shoch replied that Bridy and Clausi weren't opposed to conducting special meetings in the past that resulted in additional advertising expenses, including recent sessions to discuss matters pertaining to the Anthracite Outdoor Adventure Area (AOAA).
Shoch also opposed a motion to approve the 2013 dates for commissioners' meetings, retirement board meetings, election board meetings and work sessions because he claimed two of the public commissioners' meetings scheduled for 7 p.m. at the administration center were purposely changed to April 9 and July 9 to conflict with meetings being held the same nights by the Point Township Board of Supervisors. When Shoch, who serves as Point Township solicitor, questioned Bridy about the changes, Bridy said he didn't know when Point Township meetings are held. He later told Shoch that Clausi was responsible for changing the dates.
Bridy then asked Shoch if he represented the county or Point Township, to which Shoch replied, "I represent both and it's been proven that no conflict exists."
Bridy said commissioners' meetings take precedence on his busy schedule.
Point Township Supervisor Chairman Randall Yoxheimer, who was in attendance, said after the meeting his board will change its meeting dates in April and July to allow Shoch to attend the evening commissioners' meetings, if necessary.
The approval of the county meetings for 2013 will be on the agenda Thursday.
Shoch also questioned an announcement regarding a one-hour executive session held Friday to discuss collective bargaining matters related to the 2013 budget. Shoch, who was unable to attend the meeting, said it should not have been categorized as an executive session because budget matters were discussed.
The commissioner, who has been at odds with Bridy and Clausi over numerous issues for much of the year, also 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.
Bridy told Shoch he requested FBI assistance as an individual rather than in his capacity as a county commissioner.
Bridy denied having any knowledge of a tape Shoch accused Clausi of having that pertains to a personal telephone conversation Shoch had with an individual. If he was taped by Clausi having the conversation, Shoch said Clausi could be guilty of a wire-tapping violation.
In comments from the public, Rodger A. Babnew, Sunbury, chairman of the Northumberland County Democratic Committee, told Bridy it was "childish" for him and Clausi not to accept e-mails from Shoch, a revelation made in September.
Theresa Bettleyon, Point Township, said it was important for the commissioners to "step up" and "react" to their problems rather than continue their constant bickering.
In other business:
- The two commissioners authorized the payments of $475,458.33 to retirees for health and welfare benefits and $110,441.43 for 2012 medical insurance waivers and health and welfare benefits.
- County engineer Charles Hopta Jr. was re-appointed to the Wyoming Valley Levee Raising Mitigation Board for a one-year term, beginning Jan. 1.
- The sheriff's department was authorized to utilize reasonable overtime necessary to provide service for a tax claims properties sale in May, with additional costs added to the cost of the sale of the properties.
- Shoch commended the Mountainside Hurricane Sandy Relief Team of Coal Township for their efforts. David Kaleta, of Shamokin, one of the volunteers with the relief team in attendance at the meeting, said his group had a lot of support from the entire region in helping the victims of last month's hurricane.