County's row officers deserve cut in salaries
To the editor: When I ran for commissioner six years ago, I campaigned on the promise that I would work to run the county as I run my own business. If I had run my business like the county had been run, one of two things would have happened: either I would have shut my business down as unprofitable, or declared bankruptcy. Since my election, I have worked with two goals in mind: cut wasteful, bloated, unnecessary spending and try to bring new business and industry to our county.
I stand by my record. What other politician would have proposed and fought for the cuts I have and succeeded in achieving them? Check out the budget from 10 years ago and compare it to today. There's more than $20 million in reductions.
Bloated union contracts and health benefits continue to overburden our taxpayers. Do the taxpayers realize that we pay more than $20,000 for each employee with a family health care plan? Many taxpayers don't make $20,000 a year in salary, let alone receive benefits!
This current board of commissioners was forced to make drastic cuts 18 months ago when we took office to stave off a financial mess. I should say Commissioner Bridy and I recognized the crisis and voted to make cuts. Commissioner Shoch actually wanted to vote for increases to employees in the row offices held by his party. Isn't it strange that he is not supporting three candidates elected by his party to run for row offices? He is against Mr. Phillips, Mr. Dunkelberger and Mr. Mirolli. So much for party loyalty if it isn't one of your cronies.
Did the officeholders step forward to work with us to make these cuts? Propose alternatives? Agree to cut their own salaries to save jobs in their departments, even if part-time to provide some salary to their employees? The answer was a resounding no. You heard them all claim how hard they work when their own salaries were being cut. Where were they when their employees' positions were cut? I'm sure each employee in every department did more work than the row officer.
We have asked our taxpayers and employees to sacrifice, especially our non-union employees, yet what sacrifices have our elected officials made? None! This is not right, this is not fair and I will not stand for it. Our district attorney recently complained of the caseload in his office. He stated after we eliminated a position in his office how 25 percent was passed onto the other assistants in his office. Why didn't he take his fair share? He makes almost $170,000 per year. Check out the caseloads for the district attorneys in Snyder, Union, Columbia, Montour, Lycoming and all other counties. Our district attorney doesn't compare. This is a disgrace, but we have no control over his salary. But we do over others.
Look at all of our commissioners over the past 10, 20 or 30 years. All, except one - Cwalina - were men and women who had businesses or careers or were in successful retirements. They were not in it for the money, but for the public service. Our former sheriffs the past 30 years, again except for the current one, were retired police officers with pensions and benefits. Our treasurers all were either working or retired from the financial sector. Our coroners were a surgeon and the current one is a successful funeral director. Coroners by statute and by income, and by court rulings, are recognized as part-time employees. Look at the salary differences for coroners in all our neighboring counties - in all counties!
Our prothonotaries are also called clerks of court. Are they deserving of $50,000 a year salary? Are any clerks worth that? A recorder of deeds is not much different. Our current recorder of deeds has three supervisors and one employee. This is crazy. What business in the private sector has more supervisors than employees? Well, perhaps our state and federal governments do, but what private business does? None.
Our current row officers, when they do show up, are not at the counters waiting on the taxpayer, but are back in their offices doing who knows what. Go to a neighboring county and see row officers who wait on the taxpayer and at much lower salaries. Our current sheriff rarely makes an appearance in court, unless it's a headline case and then he's at work for the photo op. You see his staff working diligently, where is he? Fishing? Hunting? Playing with his underused, trained dog?
Many have complained about our not cutting the salary of the controller. Look back over the past three decades at our controllers. The controller is the "watchdog" of the county. The controller monitors the spending of all the money. The taxpayers always pay special attention to this office and elect those who will watch out for them. Think back: Lou Horvath, Allen Cwalina (as a controller; he was a disaster for the taxpayers as commissioner!), Chuck Erdman and now Tony Phillips. All four in that position fought for the taxpayer.
I'm tired of Mr. Shoch calling this a Dog and Pony show or a circus. Where was he when tough decisions had to be made? Looking out for his own self interest and his party's self interest. Employees lost their jobs. Why doesn't he support cutting salaries of the row officers? Perhaps if the row officers took more modest cuts we could have saved jobs for the working people in their offices, but I believe they were more concerned with their own bread and butter than that of their employees. Where is Commissioner's Shoch's recommendations? What has he done the past 18 months to cut spending and save taxpayers money? Are these not Republican principles which he talks about and fails to adhere to?
I was truly surprised at the lack of community involvement at the meeting last month involving the cutting of salaries. All the row officers were there and their employees and friends and other political hacks. But where was the public? Many have approached me on the street and said it was long overdue. You hear the row officers and their employees all over the radio, some even on county time when they are supposed to be working for the county, and in the newspapers, but where does the public stand?
If our decision is so unpopular, in two years, the new board of commissioners can meet and decide to raise the row officers' salaries back up, give them all raises, and perhaps pass a tax increase to do so. I am willing to bet the everyday citizen will come out to that meeting to voice their opposition to it. My fellow Commissioner, Steve Bridy, has said that elected officials are public servants and that's what we should be. If we are in it for the money, then we shouldn't be in it at all.
I have listened to all the arguments since the last meeting and talked to so many people - taxpayers, not the political types - and after talking to them, I see no reason to change what I did before. There is still time before the next meeting for the taxpayers, not the friends and politicos to express their opinions. I welcome their input and will consider it in my final decisions.
Northumberland County Board of Commissioners