Luzerne County Council watchdogs and critics sound off
A small group of determined Luzerne County residents faithfully attend nearly every county council meeting. These men and women act as watchdogs and critics, yet their counsel to council typically receives little media attention. The Independent Gazette believes that their insights and suggestions merit wider exposure. We present a few of these individuals this month, in their own words, spoken during the public comments period the night of the FY2014 county budget approval meeting on December 10, 2013.
Walter Griffith: I have some questions and concerns about the  budget, and I have come here on numerous occasions about the budget. The budget’s flawed. The budget that was presented to council doesn’t even have the right account numbers on it. Council needs to look at the budget intently. . . . The expenditures in the budget are over the revenues by $1.4 million. It clearly states in the ordinance that that is not the case, [but] in the budget it is the case, so there’s a flaw there. I’m asking council to vote “no” on this budget tonight; there’s a lot of reasons why they should vote “no.” Eight percent tax increase? . . . The issue here is not whether taxpayers are upset with cutting staff, it’s the extra that’s in the budget that we’re trying to continue to fund when there are other things that need to be taken care of first. You don’t get rid of county employees that bring your revenues in, in order to save money, so you can do management consulting and all the other things. That’s not the way you run a railroad. At least that’s not the way I would think you do budgets.
Ed Chesnovitch: Where did we go with “it’s the people’s charter” [and] “it’s our government,” okay? Transparency . . . the cuts have to come from the top. What about your salaries? What about the [county] manager’s salary? What about the misspent money, when we take and we pay $80,000 for a division head and then we hire somebody to tell that person how to run [their] department? [It] doesn’t make sense. I don’t have any problem paying that money, but you don’t get somebody to babysit them and tell them what to do. . . . All we get from when we talk to you over and over is “Thank you. Next.” And that’s the last time we hear anything from you. I mean, why do we even talk? It’s like we vibrate the air—nobody listens to what we have to say.
Charles Olah: It’s budget time again. One of the things I believe we all learned is . . . one of the eleven legs of a budget is a forecast of the current year, which I still haven’t found. In any regard, for the last two years we’ve really missed the accuracy on that one. And as we’ve talked around for, literally, weeks, now, on what it’s gonna take to get a bond rating, one of the things that the Boards of Governors bond-rating organizations look for is what they call “financial stability and predictability.” What that means is hitting your forecasts, of which we’ve done a woefully terrible job at. I’m going to highly recommend for one more time . . . more frequent financial reviews, even if you do it monthly, that’s gonna not be sufficient—you really have to budget monthly, load up into [the] New World [accounting system] monthly numbers—not annuals—because this percent-of-annual methodology, we’ve found, does not work. Period. So we have to get to real monthly budgeting and then I think we’ll get somewhere accurate.
I also want to thank you. Finally, after months of prodding, I understand that the FY11 financial statements are up on the web.
Ed Gustitus: Starting off, if we can’t solve the financial problems, then I would suggest you follow Detroit’s [lead] and file for bankruptcy. Get a fresh start; cancel all your debt. One comment that was in the newspaper was by [Councilman Stephen J] Urban relative to the Road & Bridge [Department], alright? I agree with that. Give it back to the boroughs. By the way, most of the boroughs and townships on the West Side of the river take care of their own roads and probably some of their bridges. Give it back—divorce yourself from that expense. That’s a runaway expense . . . you have expenses relative to labor, okay? You have materials, you have equipment . . . see what it’s going to cost you over the next four or five years. . . . Let the local communities handle that expense.