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Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Chapter 9? It can't happen here, can it?

I noticed that in a recent letter to the editor concerning our county government, a local brought up Chapter 9...municipal bankruptcy. That’s the first mention made of that that I’ve seen.

Although, I have read about it in some detail, and I doubt that would ever happen here. Going that route requires political courage and an inherent need to do the right thing. Therein, this county does not qualify.

From today’s Citizens’ Voice story “Urban: Projected spending exceeds $130 million”

Since the preliminary budget was introduced, officials learned they may have to add $2.5 million to the budget because the county cannot force all employees to take 12 furlough days without pay in 2010. County employee unions have objected to the furlough plan.

Union contracts include a requirement that layoffs and furloughs of union employees be based on seniority, and those contracts prevent across-the-board layoffs and furloughs. About 1,344 of the county's 1,685 employees are union members.


The preliminary budget also doesn't include expected additional expenses from a ruling by an arbitration panel on a new union contract for employees at the Luzerne County Correctional Facility. Local 1300 of the Laborers' International Union of North America, the prison union, represents 319 employees, and they have been working without a collective bargaining agreement this year.


Yeah, and I received hate mail when I suggested that unionized government employees care not for the plight of heavily overburdened taxpayers. Yeah, meaningful concessions are a possibility. And then you wake up on the wet side of the bed.

20 sick days per year, yes?

Now we segue into an excerpt from another Citizens’ Voice story…”Controller-elect Griffith wants county salary board disputes resolved”

Griffith said he hopes to resolve disputes over the salary board at a meeting today with DeLuca and Maryanne Petrilla, chairwoman of the county commissioners and the salary board. Another dispute involves who can be a fifth member on the board.

The three county commissioners and controller are permanent members of the board. The state-mandated County Code says "the executive head" of an office or agency is the fifth member for votes involving that official's office or agency.

Griffith and DeLuca agree that elected row officers and the president judge can be the fifth vote. But Griffith disputes DeLuca's assertion that department heads supervised by county commissioners also can vote.

DeLuca said Griffith's goals is to "have control of causing gridlock" and thus eliminate county jobs with 2-2 votes. Griffith and Commissioner Stephen A. Urban, both Republicans, have both said they would like to eliminate some jobs and reduce some salaries through the salary board.

"I see right through it," DeLuca said.

Isn’t he clever? And wasn’t it his loose interpretation, his so-called “clarification” of the law that put department heads at salary board meetings for the first time starting in 2008, and all while under Maryanne Petrilla’s watch?

And that will help to balance the budget exactly how?

Okay, the commissioners and the controller are deadlocked 2-2 on whether or not to cut the Road & Bridge department’s budget by 10% for fiscal year 2010. What say you Road & Bridge department head?

The nays have it. The deficit-spending shall continue.

So, 25% of the 2010 budget will automatically go to pay the debt service on our $466 million in outstanding debts. The debt cannot be refinanced. We can no longer obtain bond insurance. We cannot secure new revenue sources, short of allowing drilling for natural gas on the courthouse lawn. And with that noted, the taxpayers are still facing a fleecing of epic proportions when the niggling issue of propping up flagging public sector pensions hits the fan.

So what’s a disingenuous commissioner to do?

Well, you could find a solicitor that will create a loophole by where you can then protect all of those union contracts you signed. Yeah, you can make it all but impossible for anyone to force cutbacks on any office or department. You could do that.

And you can continue to pretend that the exempt employees (non-union) are all dedicated to doing their jobs, and are all working at least the 40 hours we mistakenly believed they were working all along. Not at used car lots.

And you can also (wink, wink) pretend that the county commissioners themselves are working fulltime to resolve this budget crisis, even though we know these are mostly ghost jobs, and most of the duties of the commissioners are carried out by their 3 executive secretaries and their chief clerk at a cost in excess of $220,000 a year sans the benefits.

I find it hard to believe that a county commissioner is “conducting county business,” as he puts it when challenged, when he is continually seen leaving his residence as late as 10 in the morning, something I have witnessed with my own eyes on a very regular basis, but was reluctant to write about for fear of being accused of stalking or some other bit of official harassment.

Sure, we want to cut the salaries of the courts, but isn’t that just taking a final shot at all of Greg Skrepenak’s former allies? Tell us, will the 2010 budget be balanced after a bit of pay-back is delivered to the judiciary? Well, not after so many lines items were increased as part of the 2010 budgetary process. There are no cutbacks, only line item increases.

In my opinion, not one person currently employed by the county is working on cost-cutting solutions of any measurable magnitude. Rather, they are treating us to constant political spinning, and protecting their biggest, their most reliable voting block…the county employees.

Until Maryanne Petrilla starts making some serious noise about instituting draconian cuts across the board, nothing will be resolved and the taxpayers will take yet another big hit. And I would ask her if the huge budgetary outlays spent on county employees to attend seminars, conferences and the like are delivering anything of worth to the residents of this county. Because the way I see it, all of that supposed ongoing training hasn’t added up to a hill of beans. It hasn't put an end to the gross mismanagement which we've grown so painfully accustomed to.

If she’s our fiscal savior, as she’s been angling to appear to be, we are screwed all over again.

Chapter 9? Municipal bankruptcy? It can’t happen here, can it? We’re not nearly as bad off as Detroit, San Diego or Orange County, California, are we?

My question isn’t whether it can happen here, my question is, by all rights, should it happen here? Should the county's finances be taken over by outside entities?

Answer me that.

Later

1 comment:

D.B. Echo said...

The freelance photographer who took pictures of the block party for the Citizens' Voice two years ago has died.

Robert S. Adams Jr., 58, of Nanticoke died Sunday, Dec. 27, 2009, in Wilkes-Barre General Hospital.

He was born in Kingston, son of Robert S. Adams Sr., Forty Fort, and the late Jane Arnold Adams.

He was raised in Forty Fort, and was a graduate of Wyoming Valley West High School, Class of 1969, and attended Villanova University. He was employed as a field engineer by WYLN, and had previously worked for WNEP-TV.

His real calling in life was photography, and he did freelance work for The Citizens' Voice and for King's College.

He was preceded in death by his wife, the former Ann Marie Groszewski, in 1999.

Besides his father, he is survived by his daughter, Megan, Philadelphia; son, Kevin and his wife, Stephanie, Nanticoke; sister, Joan Adams, LaPorte, Ind.; a niece and a nephew.

Funeral services will be held Wednesday at 9 a.m. from Kopicki Funeral Home, 263 Zerbey Ave., Kingston, with a Mass of Christian Burial at 9:30 a.m. in St. Ignatius Church. Interment will be in St. Mary's Cemetery, Hanover Township.

Friends may call Tuesday, 2 to 4 and 7 to 9 p.m.