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Paying Way Too Much
I noticed two different articles in the December 21 issue of the County Transcript which mentioned County Employee Health Insurance. One written by P. Jay Amadio, noted that an issue approved by the County Commissioners, would require non-union employees to contribute 10% of the cost of the Insurance. The second, a letter to the Editor written by Tom Jurista, indicated that this would require that the non-union employees would pay $150.00 per month for this coverage. If both of these individuals are correct then it looks like the cost for non-union employees is $1500.00 (that’s One-thousand-five-hundred) per month. This seems to me to be excessive. I happen to be retired so my cost is obviously much less. However, my wife is not retired and I pay the total cost for her health insurance (including major medical) and that cost is less than a third of the $1500.00 indicated above.
Something is wrong here. Either the two writers mentioned herein are wrong with their figures or the County is paying too much. To make matters worse, if it costs $1500.00 for non-union employees, what is the total cost for Health Insurance that the County is paying for all workers? Keep in mind that when I say County, it means you, me, and every other taxpayer in Susquehanna County. How long can we, the taxpayers continue to support the total load? In addition, as mentioned by Mr. Jurista, we taxpayers are expected to pay lifetime coverage for at least some elected and non-elected officials and employees.
The County Commissioners apparently indicated that they intend to address Union Employees sometime in the future. Why didn't they think to address this issue at the last negotiating session? It is time that all of our elected officials (county, school, local, etc.) wake up to the fact that the Golden Goose doesn't lay Golden eggs anymore.
Let Us Honor Them
In September of 2005 the citizens of our area learned that six of our young men from the 109th Infantry were lost in Iraq. This placed Pennsylvania at the top of a list of states that had the most personnel lost in Iraq ;103 as of the September date, a record I am sure none of us wanted.
In November of this year at Great Bend, Pennsylvania the state has opened a beautiful new welcome center on Interstate 81 south. Living near the new building, I have watched it being built over these past years. I had observed that as of the opening date outside the welcome center there was no seating for people to wait for their loved ones to exit the building. As a matter of fact the building is located between State route 11 (the VFW Highway) and I 81 the (American Legion Highway) , the very piece of land that for many years was used as a bivouac area for troops heading to and from Camp Drum in New York State.
While at the Harford fair this summer I saw a beautiful, interlocking bluestone bench being raffled off by the Bluestone Association. They have donated thousands of dollars of bluestone to the new building. I thought perhaps that our State would allow the citizens of our area to place two of these benches outside the entrance to the new welcome center. After working with Department of Transportation personnel for the past several months, I now have the permission to have these two benches put in the welcome center area. In fact the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Department of Transportation is now planning a memorial garden at the Great Bend Welcome Center facility to be built in the spring of 2006. The benches will be placed in the garden to honor our fallen men.
We want the visitors coming into Pennsylvania to sit for a moment and reflect on these young people that have paid the supreme sacrifice to keep us all free. These were “our finest,” these were our young men. One bench will be engraved with wording “For the men of the 1st Battalion, 109th Infantry from Northeastern Pennsylvania who paid the supreme sacrifice to keep us free”; and the other “For all Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force, Coast Guard personnel who have given all to keep America free”.
The total cost of the two benches with engraving and installation will be around $3000-$3200 dollars. If you feel as we do, we, the residents of Northeastern Pennsylvania should pay for and install these benches and not the State. These young men were the finest we had to give.
A special fund, the 109th Memorial Bench Fund has been set up at Peoples National Bank, Hallstead, Pennsylvania. The fund will be administered by the bank, Reverend Donald Littleton, Great Bend United Methodist Community Church and I, Del Austin, Great Bend. We are asking for your contribution (from you personally or your organization) to help place these benches in the memorial garden. Checks only should be made out to the 109th Memorial Bench Fund. And mailed to Peoples National Bank, P.O. Box A, Hallstead Pennsylvania 18822-0571.
Del W. Austin
Great Bend, PA
Torturing For Democracy
The photographs were horrifying: a man bleeding profusely apparently from dog bites, another prisoner being beaten, a body reportedly suffocated to death, others stripped naked and piled in human pyramids, some shackled in strained positions. As you may have guessed, it is Abu Ghraib Prison and the torturers are not Saddam Hussein's henchmen. They are United States soldiers.
About one-third of Americans believe that this torture was justified. The information extracted through these methods could prove invaluable. Leon Trotsky argued that the end justifies the means. Those who torture for democracy would agree. But do such practices, even if yielding life-saving information, come at a terrible price? Indeed, they do. The case against torture is a case supported by 63% of the American people. And with good reasons.
Historically, Americans have always been staunchly against the mistreatment of prisoners. Even in the dark days of WW II when the United States opposed barbarous enemies we never stooped officially to their wretched conduct. At the end of the war we would judge – without hypocrisy – those perpetrators of crimes against humanity.
Torturing prisoners of war (POW) sets the level to which our own troops will be subject to at the enemy's hand. We could hardly object to the mistreatment of an American POW if we subjected our detainees to similar mistreatment. On the other hand, humane conduct argues for like treatment of our captured soldiers.
Torture is useless. The information obtained under this pressure is worthless. The truth is that torture can force anyone to say anything. Sheikh al-Libby was captured during the conflict in Afghanistan. Libby was "rendered," i.e., transported to another country where torture is legal, in this instance, to Egypt. Under interrogation he revealed detailed information about Iraq's ties with al-Qu'ida. This information, later found to be fabricated to gain relief from his inquisitors, was used to support the invasion of Iraq. In this case, the information was worse than useless.
Torture brutalizes the tormentor. Virtues become vices: mercy, empathy, compassion are degraded to weaknesses. A heartless indifference to the suffering of others is the sine qua non of the new morality. In this cruel world the weak, the helpless, the defenseless are only objects of sadistic imagination. Loose this beast and it will cross all boarders, break all boundaries. In time it will turn on its perpetrators with the same cruelty it wrecked on others.
Torture is a self-destructive weapon in the war of moral superiority. Torture tactics are the norm in the Arab world. Brigitte Gabriel, a native of the Arab world and former news anchor of "World News for the Middle East" television writes: "Arab ideology view the mettle of a man by the brutal way they treat their enemy. Muslim men gain honor by shaming, belittling, abusing and torturing their enemy in the most horrific ways."
Some of these "horrific ways" are disemboweling, slicing a man's head off his writhing body, impaling a hapless fellahin to the cheers of spectators. This makes our mistreatment of prisoners at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo seems like college hazing. But should Arab savagery be the standard by which we measure our humanity? Are we to take the first tentative steps on the road that led to Hitler's concentration camps or Stalin's gulags or Idi Amin's blood-splattered cells or Saddam Hussein's prisons? There are ominous signs.
The accommodating attitude of the administration toward torture and rendition prompted Senator John McCain, a former POW, to sponsor an anti-torture amendment. The Senate voted 90-9 to include it in the Defense Department Appropriations' Bill. But Vice President Cheney, the President's point man for torture, sought changes that would gut the amendment. Failing this, the President threatened to veto the bill if the anti-torture amendment was attached.
But when the House backed the Senate and voted 308 to 122 to endorse the amendment, the President accepted the inevitable. He then publicly thanked Sen. McCain and praised him saying, "We've been happy to work with him." Politics.
But at a recent meeting with Republican leaders over controversial provisions in the Patriot Act the President stormed, "Stop throwing the Constitution in my face. It's just a [expletive deleted] piece of paper." The question is this: If the Constitution is just so much pulp to Pres. Bush, will the anti-torture amendment be just another "[expletive deleted] piece of paper"?
Under Saddam Hussein, Abu Ghraib was a prison of torture and death. It was a place where thousands were killed every year, year after year. After Pres. Bush's "mission accomplished" speech he contemplated destroying this notorious icon of oppression as the French destroyed the Bastille – their Abu Ghraib. Unfortunately it was decided to restore this facility and use it as a detention center.
Now two-and-one-half years after the overthrow of Hussein, Abu Ghraib's reputation has reverted to its roots, this time under American administration. We have turned full circle and face a different enemy. As Pogo said, "We have found the enemy . . . and he is us." And this enemy may yet prove to be more formidable than Saddam Hussein, himself.
New Milford, PA
What If They Agreed?
Great letter recently by Sam Lewis! Makes a lot of sense! I have a couple of comments for Mr. Amadio though. When Commissioner Warren goes to Don Sherwood instead of the taxpayers then I assume he will give us money from his personal account. I also assume that if the commissioners disagree on something, that that is bad. I can just hear his comments, if each and every time they agreed completely, about everything.
Important Healthcare Issues
I write this letter only for myself, and not for my fellow members of the Board of Commissioners. As you are probably aware, the issue of healthcare contributions has been an ongoing and, at times, contentious issue within the county. I need to express my concern that this important issue which severely impacts, and will continue to impact, the county’s fiscal stability may ultimately be reduced to nothing more than political fodder and that personal agendas and political expediency will be placed ahead of the county’s best interests.
Within the past five years, healthcare premiums have dramatically increased within both the public and the private sector. This year, the county experienced an increase of upwards of 20% for health insurance, and the county has experienced similar increases in past years as well. I need to be clear that the premium increases which the county has experienced are not because the county has been able to provide its employees with better health insurance or more benefits. To the contrary, it simply costs profoundly more to provide our employees with the same type of coverage which they have been receiving in past years. Although it would be foolish to expect that a product or service would cost the same today as it did 5-10 years ago, healthcare premiums have risen at dramatic rates, with some employers paying more than double what they did a few years ago.
In the face of the tide of growing health insurance premiums, employers have had several different responses. Some employers have reduced the level of coverage or stopped providing coverage altogether; others have offered coverage for the employee only; and employers have also required employees to pay either a percentage of their salary or a percentage of the premium toward the cost of healthcare.
I do not believe eliminating coverage or reducing the level of coverage for employees is the answer, although it represents the largest amount of cost savings. Our employees work hard for the county, and I both respect and appreciate the commitment that they have to making Susquehanna County a better place to live. Likewise, the county has explored the idea of providing coverage for the employee only, but, at present, I do not view this as a viable alternative. In addition, I am aware that other public employers in eastern and western Pennsylvania have required contributions toward healthcare premiums based upon the employee’s salary. Again, I do not believe that that is a viable alternative in that employees who have the same type of coverage may not pay the same amount toward that coverage when their earning levels are different. If two people have family coverage, I believe that they should contribute the same amount toward that coverage.
Obviously, another alternative exists: to do nothing and to pretend that health insurance premiums are not an issue which impacts the county and which will continue to do so in the future. As a commissioner, I view this as the most dangerous and unacceptable alternative. Susquehanna County operates on a budget, and we have a finite amount of money with which to provide services to our residents. Although we may have some of the same fiscal pressures as other employers, Susquehanna County is not a business in the traditional sense. Unlike a private sector employer with customers and/or clients, the county cannot simply pass along increases in the cost of doing business through rate/fee increases to generate more revenue. When costs exceed the county’s financial resources, it has three alternatives: (1) eliminate the source of the cost; (2) eliminate some other service which the county provides; or (3) increase revenue through a tax or fee increase.
As I stated earlier, eliminating healthcare benefits is not an alternative in my eyes. Likewise, I do not want to reduce or eliminate the scope of services which the county provides. Thus, the only remaining way that the county generates more revenue is by raising taxes. However, I simply cannot justify increasing taxes or fees to the taxpayers in response to this issue. Some of our residents do not have healthcare coverage, and the majority of them that do have coverage, whether they work in the public or private sector, are making a contribution toward that benefit. Accordingly, I cannot justify asking our taxpayers to pay higher taxes or increased service fees so that their employees can receive a benefit (100% paid healthcare) that a majority of the taxpayers do not have themselves.
In supporting this healthcare contribution for our non-union employees, I understand that I am asking the county’s employees to contribute to a benefit that had previously been given to them free of charge. Unfortunately, I believe that the 100% paid health insurance, whether it be in the public or private sector, is quickly becoming the exception rather than the rule as employers confront the rising cost of premiums. Moreover, I am asking the employees to make no more of a sacrifice than I am willing to make myself. I will also be contributing toward the cost of my healthcare coverage because I not only want to lead by example with respect to this issue, but also because I do not believe that it is appropriate to ask our employees to make sacrifices that I am also not willing to make myself, and I am proud to say that I am not alone in leading by example. Although we can not legally require our current elected officials to contribute toward the cost of their healthcare coverage during their current term in office, several of the county’s elected officials have indicated that they would do so voluntarily, and I welcome and appreciate their support.
In closing, I understand that my position and decision on this issue may not be shared by everyone. This was a difficult, yet important decision for me to make, and I understand the impact which it will have on the affected employees, myself included. However, in reaching my decision, I could not ignore the long-term consequences of inaction. Although requiring employees to contribute toward their healthcare coverage will only slow the bleeding of increased premiums, I believe that it is both a necessary and prudent step which is in the best interests of the county.
Susquehanna County Commissioner
Drama Has Unfolded
This letter is for all residents of Susquehanna County to help educate the public on the “Radio Needs Assessment” drama that has recently unfolded. First, let me explain what the Needs Assessment is. Due to the terrain of Susquehanna County, radio communications have made the safety of county residents and the people that we depend on for our safety and protection in an irrepressible situation. Their lives and the lives of county residents need to be the utmost responsibility of elected officials. In order to accomplish this, “Phase I” will be initiated, with the hiring of a professional consulting company to meet with county and local officials to obtain information on our current system, i.e.: coverage problems, channel and frequency issues, etc. The consultant will then conduct visits to our current sites for the placement and general condition of our present equipment. The next step will be a radio propagation study using coordinate data and generating propagation maps used to compare with the information obtained from interviewing our public safety officials. The gathered information will in turn lead to the needs assessment of the county, complete with a list of equipment, price estimates, and tasks required for implementation. “Phase II” will consist of the consultant assisting with the implementation of the new plan through the progression schedule determined in the study.
Fact: A Countywide Radio Needs Assessment is needed and has been needed for years.
Fact: Money had never been an issue in resolving this crisis, it was the approach that was taken.
Fact: At the December 14 Commissioners’ meeting, I made a motion to sign the contract that day with the consulting company recommended by our qualified 911 Coordinator. I later withdrew my motion based on the information received from a member of the audience, that perhaps the recommendation from this employee had been made under duress and the fact that there had been no second on the motion. After a very lengthy and intense discussion, Commissioner Loomis made a motion to move ahead with “Phase I” and “Phase II” of the project, to which I seconded as it was my understanding that we always intended to move forward and it didn’t matter who made the motion. I guess it did matter who made the motion, but let me remind you that we all put our pants on the same way, one leg at a time.
Fact: Commissioners are elected to represent the whole county, Democrat, Republican, Independent, etc., female and male, young and old, etc.
Fact: All commissioners need to be contacted to get the correct information concerning our county, and please remember that it takes two commissioners to make things happen.
Fact: Politics has to take a back seat in making decisions for the greater good of our county and residents.
With all that said, I hope you take the time to look deeper into county issues, as there is always more to a story than is first told. Just a reminder, I continue to have office hours at the New Milford Borough Building on the first Tuesday and Thursday of each month, 3:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.
Susquehanna County Commissioner
TO THE EDITOR POLICY
Thank you, Susquehanna County Transcript
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