ssǝɹddns ɹou ɹɐǝɟ ɹǝɥʇıǝu plnoʍ ʎʇǝıɔos ǝǝɹɟ ʎlnɹʇ ɐ ʇɐɥʇ ƃuıʇnɔolɯnɔɹıɔ suıɐʇuoɔ ǝʇıs sıɥʇ

Sunday, January 16, 2011

The Ashley section of Wilkes-Barre

A few years ago, during the McGroarty administration, Sugar Notch was so completely cash-strapped, it had to borrow a police cruiser from Wilkes-Barre City after it’s lone police vehicle encountered mechanical difficulties.

My thought at the time was, if a municipality cannot afford a transmission, let alone a 24-hour, seven day a week police department, it’s time to cease operations as a separate governing body.

Here we are 7 years removed from those McGroarty years, and Sugar Notch still has serious budgetary constraints.

Warrior Run recently deep-sixed it’s police department by entering into a policing arrangement with Nanticoke.

Luzerne backed out of a policing agreement with Swoyersville, created it’s own part-time force, and just months later severely slashed it’s employees hours and eliminated benefits. Nothing causal about that.

Ashley’s police department has dwindled from 5 to 2 police officers during the past two years. It’s finances have been the subject of an outside audit by investigators. It is an Act 47 participant--a “distressed city.” And it recently raised it’s property tax rates by a whopping 80.4%.

Plymouth and Plymouth Township have made recent overtures about consolidating the two communities into one. The township has no police force, plus it is also an Act 47 casualty. And but days ago, Plymouth raised it’s property tax rate by 68%.

Then we have Forty Fort, where residents were treated to a 47.7% property tax increase combined with a 200% sewer fee increase. Forty Fort has an operating agreement with Kingston’s fire department, shared resources if you will.

West Wyoming (from the Times Leader): “This is the first year since 2005 the borough will complete the year in the black and paid back its tax anticipation note three months early,” said council President Eileen Cipriani. “2011 will be the first year we have not needed to take out a (tax anticipation note) in many years.”

That was the good news.

The bad news is that the borough is still $809,000 in debt, Cipriani said, pointing out that at the beginning of the year that figure was $900,000.

“We will still owe the pension fund $41,000 at the end of this year, but we have come a long way from where we were last year,” she said.

*The previous report is typical of what our smaller communities face on an ongoing basis.

The way I see it, Exeter needs a Sprawl-Mart so as to remain solvent going forward.

Luzerne County held the line on taxes by overestimating it’s 2011 revenue by $4.4. Million, banking on a land deal that may or may not come to pass. Good luck with that.

On the brighter side, both Plains Township and Wilkes-Barre Township delivered balanced budgets for 2011, but not every municipality plays host to an arena or a casino. I’m of the firm opinion that both of these outfits should be showing substantial surpluses.

Hazleton City had no tax or fee increases, but did hand over garbage collection duties to the Hazleton City Authority. Some say there’s a bit of budgetary sleight of hand going on there.

Nanticoke City agreed to provide police protection to Warrior Run borough, but raised property taxes on it’s residents by an additional 1.25 mills.

Pittston City presented a balanced budget by eliminating positions and raising the garbage sticker fee by 12%.

Wilkes-Barre City saw no tax or fee increases that I know of, but employee positions were eliminated, one of three fire engines have gone part-time and austerity is clearly the rule of the day.

Look, since Luzerne County has 76 municipal bodies, I could go on and on and on with this. My sole point is, rather than entering into shared services agreements that deliver minuscule savings, our smallest communities should be absorbed by the larger ones.

With the economy what it is (isn’t), with the Fedrule budget approaching incalculable heights and with the State of PA going financially tits up in slow motion, what we here in Luzerne County need is consolidation rather than the much-ballyhooed regionalization.

The ridiculously expensive redundancy of operating so many financially flailing municipalities is patently absurd at this point. There should no longer be a flailing Ashley Borough. What there should be is the Ashley section of Wilkes-Barre, or the Ashley section of Hanover Township.

And rather than going half way by sharing fire services and code enforcement with Kingston, Forty Fort should go all the way by becoming the Forty Fort section of Kingston.

Warrior Run? I’ve got throw rugs bigger than Warrior Run. It’s time to give it up by being absorbed into either Hanover or Nanticoke.

One police chief, not two. One fire chief, not two. One mayor, not two. One bolstered police force, not two lesser ones. Code enforcement and detectives for both communities, not just one. Plus, maximized buying power in addition to greater grant opportunities.

Austerity can only take our smallish communities so far when it’s all but certain that state and federal aid will be harder and harder to come buy when the folks at the higher levels finally sober up and reign in the out-of-control spending.

Anyway, we need full-blown mergers. And we need to keep saying it until the folks in the tiniest of the thiefdoms finally speak up and demand better for themselves.

Ask those under-served folks in Ashley if they’d rather stick with the two-man police force, or add their two to our ninety-one.

The Ashley section of Wilkes-Barre?

Kind of has a ring to it, don’t it?


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