Bruce has been aggressive in getting his message out early on via WILK, a message that I heard loud and clear. I'm no PHD in the ways of political science, but I expect him to do well on May 17.
1. Why you? Why now? What differentiates you from the rest of the crowded field?
Why me? Because I have an extensive background of varied experience which has prepared me for just such a role in local government. I have experience on the streets as a police officer, experience in the courts as a Magistrate, and Management experience in the Federal Government. In my capacity as a Federal Government employee, I had to manage a budget, review and select vendors to provide particular services that I required to carry out my job duties. I supervised a couple hundred employees, including hiring and firing using Federal Civil Service regulations. I was assigned to implement a brand new law throughout the Federal Government and then put it in operation nationwide, which consisted of a $50 Billion responsibility. I have excelled at every job I have ever held including the Federal Government where I received an award from both the Vice President of the United States as well as the Secretary of the Treasury. I have the undergrad and graduate level education to go along with my experience, all of which I wish to bring to the service of the citizens of Luzerne County. I seek to serve my fellow citizens and not myself.
Now is the time to get involved because of the importance of the first County Council. If we do our job correctly, we will set the foundation for future Councils to govern wisely, honestly, and fruitfully. We must ensure that corruption is a thing of the past and that good honest government is made available to the citizens who are paying for it.
2. What motivation is there to want to serve on a legislative body for very little pay and no benefits?
I have been in public service all of my life and with being retired from Federal service, I have the will and desire to serve one last time in my own community. The pay doesn't matter to me in the least. I would seek to serve even if the job paid nothing. I have all the benefits I need and require nothing more. This county government is broken and needs repair. I desire to lend whatever abilities I possess to achieve that goal working in unison with the other ten members of the Council.
3. Last I knew, the debt service payment was 17.2% of the yearly budget. Any ideas on how we can significantly reduce our outstanding debts?
Once we get settled, a careful review of the personnel costs that the County pays must be undertaken. This will require visits to the various departments of the Government to see for ourselves what job each office is required to do, how many employees they have, and how much that particular office costs to run. Some departments are running with fewer employees than they are authorized to have due to attrition and no new hires being accomplished to replace the outgoing employee. It is my belief that it is essential that the Council understands what each department does. If there are areas discovered where fat exists, then cuts can be made. The question then becomes can that department still do its job with the lower number of employees. Any savings realized from this review of costs could then be directly applied to the deficit.
Additionally, in recognition that property taxes are already too high for the people of Luzerne County and are placing a burden on many seniors who are trying to hold onto their homes, if elected to the County Council, I will not vote to raise property taxes.I realize that, in order to eliminate the nearly half-billion-dollar deficit under which Luzerne County is anguishing, new revenue will have to be raised. It is my intent to introduce whatever legislation is required to do this so that the tax burden is spread evenly across the board and, where possible, on non-residents of the county. It isn’t equitable to tax only home owners, or only those who reside in apartments, to battle the deficit. New thinking is required to solve this problem.
If elected, I intend to propose a raise in the hotel occupancy tax by one to two percent on the 3,200 hotel rooms within Luzerne County. This will result in only a one- or two-dollar per night increase to those utilizing hotel rooms, and will raise the county tax rate from 5% to 6%, which would match the state rate of tax. I would also look into proposing a new entertainment tax that would affect the Mohegan Sun casino, a business that was supposed to reduce property taxes for many in the county. I’ve seen no such decrease and if the County does not have authority to tax the casino, then the Council would need to work with Harrisburg to implement any of these proposed new taxes. I would also investigate levying a new tax of $0.25 for every movie ticket sold in the county, and an additional one-dollar tax on every live event entertainment ticket sold at any Luzerne venue.Any new taxes of this nature would be classified as “restricted revenue streams,” so that the only permitted use for these new taxes would be to apply them directly to the deficit. I would also propose a “sunset” provision on these additional taxes that would make them expire and revert to the previous tax rate once the deficit reaches zero.I realize that these taxes might be controversial, but the Luzerne County government must make concrete efforts to reduce the debt that is choking off growth in the county, as well as taking badly needed revenue away from productive projects and services while money is going towards interest payments on the debt.
I will be committed to having the new council examine all sources of revenue and how they are being used to the benefit of the county.
The days of raising taxes without a plan and with no concern for who they affect must end. Creative use of available new sources of income must be sought out so that taxes are fair to everyone and the county can avoid bankruptcy. We must attempt to only raise taxes on things that can be classified as a luxury, and not a necessity such as additional taxes on homeowners. Simply filing Bankruptcy is not a viable option. It is important that the County regain an outstanding credit rating so that we can get better financing deals in the future for any emergency requirements that arise.
4. How can our newly-created council help to restore the public’s shattered faith in our county government?
The people will know us by our work. It will become fairly obvious fairly quickly whether or not we govern in the best interests of the public. Sweetheart deals will become a thing of the past and unwise expenditures such as time clocks that cost a half million dollars with further substantial costs for maintenance are avoided at all costs. These costs can be avoided simply by having the right managers in place that can supervise their departments. If they can't perform that task, then they must be replaced. Honest work for honest pay can be guaranteed to a great extent by a strong ethics regulation with a suitable investigative mechanism to look into any actions that indicate that employees are cheating the tax payer. Severe penalties must be instituted for those found to have filed false reports on hours worked.
5. In your opinion, does a nationwide search for a county executive make more sense than electing a local person?
I don't believe it's one or the other. A nationwide search can be launched with minimum cost while welcoming applications for county manager from local sources as well. My belief is the best man or woman for the job should get the job, no matter where they come from and that mandates a search of all resources for applicants.
6. Should public sector unions be allowed to strike?
If labor and management bargain in good faith, a strike should never even be on the table. An honest wage for honest work should be the normal way of conducting work for the county. Public safety employees should never be allowed to strike as it places lives in danger.
7. What are your thoughts on the collecting bargaining rights of said unions?
Good faith bargaining is essential to all parties concerned. Again, what is fair to all parties is what should occur with management willing to say no, when demands by unions exceed the ability of the people to pay such demands. The unions must understand that it is a two way street just as management must. The bottom line is what is best for the tax payer who is footing the bill. Another essential element of this process is cooperation between the parties, once again keeping in mind that we all work for the people and it is their checkbook that pays the wages earned by all concerned. Unions made this country strong and contributed too many successes in industry to help make this country great. This is a new era where most if not all government entities are out of money that is found in excess within the coffers of said governments.
8. Would you be in favor of a clear-cut anti-nepotism policy?
Without question. This has been one of the major problems in various bodies such as school boards as well as some county departments. This practice must be relegated to the past where it belongs.
9. Since austerity seems to be the way of the world for the foreseeable future, would you be in favor of an across the board budget cut by a fixed percentage?
No, I would not be in favor of this. Each department must be examined to determine the work load, current staffing stats, work flow, and costs in addition to personnel costs that must be covered. Some departments in the Luzerne County government are already operating at below authorized staffing levels. To issue a broad sword cut could damage the ability of some departments to carry out their mandated responsibilities. Any cuts in funding must be done with intelligence and knowledge so as to not hinder the proper conduct of business.
10. What should become of the Valley Crest property as well as the former juvenile detention facility? Moon Lake Park?
First, look for alternative use for said properties. For example, would the former juvenile detention facility be able to function for the purpose of housing county records? The current facility is leaking and in danger of leading to damage to massive amounts of records. Instead of building or buying a new facility, a quick study by the proper people should be undertaken to ascertain whether or not a transfer of records to the juvenile facility would serve the purpose instead of new expenditures. Certainly security of the documents should not be a problem. If it is determined that the facility would be unsuitable for that purpose, then looking into using the facility for certain classes of county prisoners such as drug users, or people convicted of minor offenses and sentenced to short stays for things like bad checks should be considered. Currently, we send all offenders sentenced to county jail time to the same place where they can learn to become more involved in the criminal life by learning from other major case inmates how to do certain crimes. They come out worse than when they go in and our recidivism rate climbs.
Maybe turn the detention center into a drug and alcohol facility where incarceration and rehabilitation can occur to get the person off drugs might be one example of a better use scenario. The county spends a lot of money housing convicted drug offenders with little or no attempts to get them off drugs so they might have a new chance of leading a drug free life and thus stay out of prison.
Frankly on the other two, I would try and do a long term lease on Moon Lake and study the nursing home for alternative uses if it can't be sold. If the facility is still in good shape, why couldn't it serve its original purpose?
11. If the makeup of the county council were to be dominated by one area of the county, do you think that the funding of capital projects could become provincial in nature?
All parts of the county must be treated equally when it comes to things like infrastructure maintenance, whether its roads or bridges. All taxpayers must see a benefit from the taxes they pay. I believe that historically some areas of the county have been ignored to the detriment of the people in that area. This must not continue to occur. It is also the responsibility of the citizens in various parts of the county to report issues such as destroyed bridges resulting from a flood, to the County so that action can be taken. The people must hold the Council accountable for the lack of attention that has occurred in the past but cannot continue in the future.
12. If you could fund one major project by executive fiat, what would it be?
To ensure that every bridge located in Luzerne County is sound, safe and maintained to the highest degree.
13. What’s your favorite color (trick question)?
Definitely NOT red! It's time to bring the county into the black and that can be done by electing an intelligent, informed, cooperative county council, that has the ability to think outside the box using imagination to solve the problems that we face as a people and county.
And there you have it, Bruce Simpson, candidate for Luzerne County Council.
Thanks, Bruce. Oh, and good luck.