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With Gratitude To All
I would like to take this opportunity to thank all the local sponsors for their help and donations supporting the free Pennsylvania snowmobile safety course that was held on February 13.
Without your support, the event could not have taken place.
It Wasn’t Broke
Much has been written about the Susquehanna County Planning Commission and Planning Department’s checkbook, and its long standing, supposedly illegal, practice of providing a meal to members of the commission and staff at monthly workshops.
The Municipal Planning Code, which grants municipalities the power to create planning commissions and planning departments, sets out the ground rules in law. Section 202 of the Code has long stated that “All members of the planning commission shall serve without compensation but may be reimbursed for necessary and reasonable expenses.” An amendment in 2002 allows Planning Commission members to be compensated.
For the sake of argument, let us suppose that there had never been an amendment in 2002. The Planning Commission meets at 7:00 p.m. the last Tuesday of the month. This is a work day, and most people who work get off work at 5:00 p.m. The workshop is held prior to the 7:00 p.m. meeting. How are the members to go home, eat supper and return for a 6:00 p.m. workshop? Given this schedule, a reasonably priced meal is a necessary and reasonable expense.
Now let us look at rescheduling the workshop for a different day and time, say 7:00 p.m. the last Monday of the month. The members would need to come out two nights. The staff would also need to be present and either be paid overtime or given “comp time” out of their regular working hours. The members would be reimbursed for their mileage not once, but twice a month.
Which scenario is more efficient? Which scenario is more expensive?
It is improper to call this practice illegal, even under the necessary and reasonable standard, and certainly not since the 2002 amendment. In any event, it is foolhardy to impute graft or corruption to these unpaid volunteers, who are rendering great service to our county. Who would want to serve their community and be made to feel guilty for accepting a necessary and reasonable meal once a month?
I understand that our county is facing fiscal problems, but these problems have nothing to do with the Planning Commission’s reasonable practices, nor will the possible savings of a few dollars solve the county’s fiscal woes.
The Planning Commission has used its checkbook in the past to promote planning, to maintain the professional standards of its staff and commissioners, and to help municipalities and groups of municipalities serve their constituents better, starting with the Council of Governments in the 1980’s and working with the Northern Tier Coalition, the Eastern Susquehanna Partnership and individual municipalities on planning issues – all prudent expenses.
Friday I saw Bob Templeton carrying checks from his office in the County Office Building to the treasurer’s office at the far end of the courthouse complex, a trip he now makes daily, returning with a receipt for the day’s transactions. Is this the best use of his time?
Let’s not give our planners a bad rap. I’m willing to bet that now that the County Commissioners have that checkbook, they’ll be approving like expenses for the Planning Department and Commission every two weeks. The accounting will be run directly through the county, but no dollars will be saved, unless the level of services is decreased. We’re not talking graft here, but centralization and another layer of bureaucracy in the name of “accountability.”
The system wasn’t broken. It’s a shame the County Commissioners felt a need to “fix” it.
Katherine M. Shelly
Not On The List
Your article of February 9 says, “Mike Dopko, a Pennsylvania and New York certified codes inspector to enforce zoning and such ordinances for the town.”
There is no Dopko on the list of certified inspectors. Did anybody bother to check his bona-fides?
David A. Kerr, Jr.
Taxes Are Levied By Mills
In response to Mr. Tom Jurista's letter in last weeks letters to the editor, Mr. Jurista states that he finds it hard to believe each PA county has a different allowable maximum tax increase. His figures are given in percentages. Taxes are levied by mills.
In PA Counties of the third through eighth class (Montour is eighth class, Susquehanna is sixth class) the legal limit on general purpose levies is 25 mills. (16P.S.1770) 5 additional mills over the 25 mill limit may be imposed with court approval. In addition to general purpose limits, taxing bodies may levy additional real estate taxes for special purposes including but not limited to debt service -no limit (16P.S.1770) and libraries - no limit (24 P.S.4401).
Susquehanna County's general purpose millage for 2005 is 11.5 mills. Debt Service is 1.01 and Libraries is .33.
If Mr. Jurista really means a 5 mill increase approved by the court in Montour County, which is what the state law actually authorizes, then they must already be at 25 mills for their general purpose levy.
Catherine R. Benedict
Susquehanna County Treasurer
& Tax Claim Bureau Director
More Than Lip Service
After the tragedy of 9/11, we've reflected on how important it is to preserve our fundamental principles as Americans, or "the terrorists will have won." Alberto Gonzales, who advised that torture is an acceptable method of interrogation in America, and stated that the commander-in-chief could choose to ignore our laws, is our new Attorney General. At his inauguration, President Bush asked Congress to extend the "Patriot Act," which removes vital checks and balances on government power, and risks infringing the First, Fourth, and Fifth Amendments to our Constitution. I'm worried that we're going to let the terrorists win by starting to sink to their level of disregard for freedom, democracy, and human dignity. We need to protect what has made people around the world think of America as a beacon of freedom – with more than lip service.
Why Not Personal Retirement Choice ?
Social Security reform is a big issue today and hiding in wishful thinking doesn't solve any problems. So let’s face up to and understand the basic hard facts.
While government agencies (SSA Trustees, SSA Actuaries and CBO) may differ in some details as they try to predict future trends, there does seem to be agreement on Social Security fundamentals. Today the FICA tax takes in more than it pays out, but in about 13 years that tax will be less than the benefits to be paid out, causing a draw-down from the SS Trust Fund. In another couple of decades (around 2040-2045), the Trust fund will be exhausted and incoming taxes will only be able pay about 75% of expected benefits. Then, under current law, the SSA must either raise taxes or cut benefits. We could solve the problem more gradually by raising taxes from 12.4% to 18% or by cutting benefits by one-third, or, over the longer run, by borrowing several Trillion dollars.
The problem is caused by a combination of today’s PayGo Structure (taxes in, benefits out, left-over surplus to Trust Fund) and national longevity trends (more retirees living much longer, with a coming surge of boomer retirees, while the number of workers to pay the taxes keeps shrinking). Soon there will be only two workers to pay for each retiree; down from 3-1 today and 16-1 only 50 years ago. The problem becomes urgent in 13 years, not 40 years because there are no real assets in the Trust Fund to pay benefits. Unlike real assets in a personal account, the Fund only holds Government promises to pay itself for all the accumulated surplus tax dollars that it has already spent on its day-to-day operating expenses. The only way it can pay those benefits, starting in 13 years, is to raise more taxes or to borrow more funds then. Raising taxes to build a surplus has not and will not work - it’s really just a tax me now and tax me later scheme.
What does work is real personal accounts for individuals; accounts that are invested to harness the power of compound interest in real, growing assets that you can spend on retirement or leave to your heirs if you die before retirement. That's what all federal and most university employees have had for years, under very successful plans. President Bush proposes to offer the choice of those accounts to all younger workers as part of a revised Social Security Program that also continues to pay current and near retirees their promised benefits – promises that cannot be kept under the current system. That’s not just another patch-up, it's real Social Security rejuvenation for the 21st Century.
So why the opposition to letting people make their own choices about their money and their future? Has the “Anybody but Bush” theme become the “Anything but Personal Retirement Choice” theme? For more, visit “randomrantsandreferences.blogspot.com.”
TO THE EDITOR POLICY
Thank you, Susquehanna County Transcript
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