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They Aren’t Listening
The 2005 election put two Starrucca families, the Haynes and Rhone/Buck households in control of Starrucca Borough. Current council members are Kirk Rhone, Fred Rhone, Robert Buck, Helen Haynes and Donald Haynes. Joining their voting block is Starrucca Council newcomer Anthony Palonis, and not voting but having a great amount of influence over events is Darl Haynes, the FEMA agent and a borough auditor.
This group of people is responsible for over $35,000 in current spending that is not identified or approved on the 2006 Starrucca Borough Budget. This unauthorized spending is a doubling of past budgets and would make drunken sailors blush. Topping that is the 2007 budget package containing $85,000 in newly approved loans best described as a “culture of entitlement.” The only area where they surpass their spending habits is in their willingness to return $120,000 in previously approved FEMA Public Assistance Funding while asking for replacement funding from NRCS for the same project.
Let me repeat that last bit so you know it isn’t a mistake.
The 2006 Starrucca Council wants to return $120,000 in approved FEMA Public Assistance Funding while applying for replacement NRCS funding for the same project, to repair a creek wall in Shadigee Creek. Is this confusing? Yes. I tell everyone I speak to, “You can’t make this up.” All in all it makes for loud public meetings.
The December, 2006 council meeting started with a shortage of money in the General Fund that led to the second month’s non-payment of a $660 workmen’s compensation bill to Thompson Hose, our fire protection district, and ended with adopting the 2007 Budget. This budget, containing errors and omissions, was voted on instead of being revised and sent back to the public for comment. The adopted 2007 Starrucca Budget includes a total of $85,000 in loans. $15,000 goes for the 2006 overspending and $70,000 for the controversial Buck Bridge project. The high point of the meeting was the reading of a petition, signed by sixty-eight Starrucca citizens, to stop the loan and expenditure of any local tax dollars for the Buck Bridge project, followed by the reading of a letter that cautioned, “council might spend much more than expected on legal issues in 2007.” The new mayor, Jack Downton, suggested putting the loans on the ballot for the voters and stated, “the numbers are there, you are going to put yourself (the borough) in deficit.” The sixty-eight signatures were ignored, as council did not discuss or consider the petition, and did not discuss or reject as incorrect any of the financial observations made by Mayor Downton.
The only item not discussed for the Starrucca 2007 Budget was the millage rate, and on that subject not one word was uttered. Does the Council think they can sneak in a tax increase for property owners? Any raise in Borough millage will be in addition to the school tax increase for Starrucca from the Susquehanna School District. The Borough Council presented no financial plan, only the single statement from Kirk Rhone that “we (council) feel comfortable with that budget.” Let’s ask the fixed-income senior citizens if they share Mr. Rhone’s feelings or can afford a second tax increase.
Here is a snapshot of Starrucca: population 200-210; general tax revenue $15,000; all other revenue $4,000; liquid fuels revenue $17,800; 65% of the population defined as LM/I (low to moderate income). Starrucca budgets from 2003-2005 were in the $36,000 to $37,000 range.
Large dollar items, not identified in the 2006 Starrucca budget:
$16,500 contract awarded to Delta Engineering for the Buck Bridge design. This contract was awarded prior to grant funding being awarded. That HUD funding was denied in June as “not meeting any National Objective required for CDBG funding.” The grant officer stated, “The Borough would have a better chance of qualifying the Stephano Bridge.”
$3,150 contract awarded to Delta Engineering for a cost study to replace Stephano Bridge. Months after the money was spent, County Engineer, Steve Knash provided engineering specs at a $300 cost to Starrucca Borough. The Delta Engineering study will not be used.
$ 9,800 allocated for capitol improvements – roads. This is above the liquid fuels roads summer maintenance amount.
$ 2,900 contract awarded in November to survey five Starrucca Borough roads.
$ 4,350+ paid to solicitors (includes $3,800 to Ronald Bugaj and $532 to AG Howell).
2007 Bank Loans – the Starrucca Council voted to accept two loans: $70,000 PennStar 10-year term at 4.64% for Buck Bridge; $15,000 PennStar 5-year term at 4.64% to cover current shortage (Borough advertised both loans at 10-year terms). This represents payments of $12,129 per year through 2011, dropping to $8,762 through 2016.
FEMA: We should not give back $120,000 in FEMA Public Assistance Funding! I was the FEMA agent in 2005, and I reject as absolute nonsense that any money was inappropriately applied for. I did the same job that every person before did, which was to obtain public funding to cover eligible damage. In 1996, certain damage was paid for by USDA-NRCS, but in 2005 FEMA project coordinator Robert Monroe stated, “While those other agencies (USDA-NRCS) would not financially participate this time, (FEMA Public Assistance) would.” Repairing this 220’ of wall protects two state roads, a new state bridge, and homes. Preventing the bridge from becoming a dam is the core issue, and it last happened in this spot in 1985 with Hurricane Gloria.
Let me go back to the ignored petition of this week and demonstrate how history comes around. The 1988 Starrucca Council did not ignore a petition signed by so many. In that year, citizens were concerned that one family could control Starrucca. Donald (Deke) Haynes, Sr. led a successful petition to stop the reduction of council members from seven to five. Deke Haynes spoke for the seventy signers stating, “with a quorum of three, a measure could be passed by two members.” Mayor Art Kopp added, “If the seventy signers are voters, it would be difficult to ignore the petition” [April 5, 1988 article in the Wayne Independent]. The history lesson is this: every Haynes, Rhone or Buck now serving this borough signed that 1988 petition, but now that the shoe is on the other foot, they aren’t interested in listening to the townspeople. I must agree with the late Deke Haynes, that it is never a good idea to give so much power to one or two families.
In closing, I thank Councilman Louis Gurske for his continuing votes against the agenda being pushed forward in Starrucca this year.
No 2007 Tax Increase
For the second year in a row, there will be no real estate tax increases for Susquehanna County residents. 2007’s Real Estate millage will remain at 11.5 mills, Funded Debt Service will remain at 1.01 mills. The Library Tax will be reduced from .33 mills to .30 mills, and the Occupation Tax will be eliminated entirely.
2007’s total General Fund Budget is $12,128,461 compared to $11,960,203 in 2006, for a total increase of $168,258 . The General Fund is where the 11.5 mills of real estate tax collected from county residents goes to pay for the 55 different county departments and programs that provide county services.
In addition to the General Fund, Susquehanna County also has 19 other separate segregated funds which have to be maintained and accounted for separately, because they are funded in large part by the state and federal government. These funds include Children & Youth, $3.3 Million; FEMA funds for the June, 2006 flood, $2.3 million; Domestic Relations, $583,000; Funded Debt, $710,000; the library system, $224,000; Liquid Fuels, $204,000; and 12 other separate government smaller funds. These 19 separate government funds have a 2007 budget total of $8,801,259. This compares to a 2006 budget of $6,592,145 for the separate funds, giving Susquehanna County a $2.2 million increase in state and government funding for 2007, attributed mainly to the $2.3 million in emergency FEMA/PEMA funding.
When added together, Susquehanna County’s total 2007 budget is $20,929,720 compared to $18,524,239 in 2006, for a $2,405,481 increase in the total county budget for 2007 with no increase in taxes! The budget is on public display at the Courthouse, and will be voted upon for adoption at our December 27 public meeting.
Time For New Legislation
The results are in for dairy farmers for the year 2006. The family dairy farmers – regardless of size – have experienced the worst price squeeze ever. The tremendous acceleration in production cost, coupled with prices received for their milk that equate way back to 1981, has sent the average dairy farmer into a state of bewilderment.
To add insult to injury, the USDA’s decision to increase the amount of money that the “make allowance” takes from the dairy farmers’ milk checks will add even more misery to the dairy farmers’ plight.
Many of the same dairy cooperative leaders who pushed for increasing the “make allowance” are now scampering to have the USDA raise the Class I price by 73 cents per cwt. The best this proposal will do is raise the statistical price in some markets by 33 to 35 cents per cwt while, in other markets with a low Class I utilization, the increase may not be enough to even offset the increased “make allowance” deduction.
Is this really the best we can do for dairy farmers?
Some people are stating that dairy farmers should be capturing more premium money, while others are saying that dairy farmers must increase the possibility of realizing a profit by tightening their belts. I think most dairy farmers have run out of notches on their belts for any more tightening.
The USDA may or may not be having hearings on pricing manufactured milk differently. If the USDA’s past record is any indication of what might come out of this proposed hearing, it appears that the dairy farmers once again will be shortchanged.
What about dairy co-ops setting a real price? National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) and others claim to have nearly 80% of the US milk in their control. If this is true, then why can’t they establish a fair price for dairy farmers? Many of us felt for years that if dairy cooperatives had this much milk under their control, then they could establish fair prices.
Doesn’t the Capper-Volstead law allow co-ops to set prices? For years the National Farmers Organization tried to establish prices, but they were always cut off at the pass by some dairy cooperatives.
Dairy farmers have waited long enough.
If the dairy cooperatives either cannot or will not establish a fair price, and since it’s very obvious that the USDA will not or cannot establish fair pricing to dairy farmers, then it’s time for the real representatives of the people – the United States Congress – to finally step in and take corrective measures. This can be done, but it will mean the majority of dairy farmers must put their shoulder to the wheel and help.
The USDA figures indicated the national average cost of production centers around $2.00 per cwt. Somehow, $12.00 to $13.00 or even $14.00 per cwt milk just doesn’t cut it.
We are working with some elected officials and other organizations to establish a proposed new dairy bill based on the national average cost of producing milk as determined by the Economic Research Service (ERS), a division of the USDA.
While some “kinks” are being worked out with the proposed bill, it is estimated the proposal would return a price in the Northeast Order #1 of slightly over $17.00 per cwt. This will be a national bill, and, by establishing a fair value for manufactured milk ($15.15), then the milk orders with a lower Class I utilization will receive a fair price.
The bill will also call for an inventory management program that is geared to keep the production of milk in line with the real needs of the marketplace. Any excess production must be paid for by dairy farmers, not the US government!
The bill does not restrict the production of milk, but someone will pay a fee if there is too much milk.
However, the inventory management program would not kick in until the imports of dairy products are brought under control. This includes imported milk protein concentrate (MPC).
We need your help! Pro Ag can be reached at 833–5776.
We were unable to be at the October 3 Starrucca Borough Council meeting, and this letter was read by Loreda Everett.
“Roger and I were gone until the middle of April. The first meeting we were able to attend was the May meeting. At that time Kirk Rhone told Roger and I that he could get the (Shadigee Creek) wall done for $80,000. We would like to know what happened between ‘I could get it done for $80,000’ and sending the money back.
“If this was your family, the wall would have been done. It is a disgrace that you would leave the wall in the shape it is in and have the lady that owns the corner house be driven out of her home. You are not only causing her the loss of her home, you are also endangering the new bridge that has only been replaced for two years.”
The current council: President Kirk Rhone, Robert Buck, Fred Rhone, Helen Haynes, Donald Haynes, Anthony Palonis and Louis Gurske, Darl Haynes as the FEMA agent. The only one to vote to replace the wall is Louis Gurske. Thanks, Lou.
In 1976, it was Mary Parson’s house (now owned by Renee Warden) and the borough took care of the wall. On council at that time were: Fred Rhone, Robert Buck, Darl Haynes, with Mayor Art Kopp.
The wall, then owned by Jim Herr, was also replaced in 1996 by the borough with NRCS funding by Gary Williams, Emergency Management Coordinator. Why was the wall replaced then? And now that we have over $100,000 to replace the washed out wall, this council will not! “Call our lawyer” is their answer.
The damage this time would have been greater if some of the town’s people (Roger Glover with tractor, Paul Everett, Jack Downton and councilman Louis Gurske) didn’t remove fallen trees from the creek. Where was the FEMA agent and the rest of council?
Now we still have T-walls that are blocking the water and it is eroding the wall behind our new, two-year old bridge.
When will action be taken? Roger and I love our home and this little town. To see this historic area of our town washed away is unacceptable.
Roger and Barbara Glover
TO THE EDITOR POLICY
Thank you, Susquehanna County Transcript
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