The LuLac Edition #92, Nov 17, 2006
11:00AM NOV. 17th
As reported last week on this blog, County Commissioner Todd Vonderheid will not run for another term. Here's his statement:
Today at 11 am in the Commissioner’s Meeting Room I will announce, with great pride in our accomplishments and with great confidence in our county’s bright future, my decision not to seek a second term as Luzerne County Commissioner.
While I’ve always been committed to public service, I never saw a career in elective office as the only means of accomplishing that goal. I do think, however, that, by stepping forward at the right time, one can be particularly effective in a given public office. For me, that time was three years ago, when Luzerne County needed new and bold leadership and the occasion to run for County Commissioner provided me with the appropriate opportunity to help build a better Luzerne County.
My tenure has given me a unique opportunity to do a lot of good for Luzerne County in a short period of time. Now, it’s time to move on. I do not know what the future holds for me, but I hope that it will provide me with new opportunities that are equally challenging and gratifying.
I firmly believe that, when I leave, Luzerne County government will be in better condition than it was when my colleague and friend, Greg, Skrepenak found it. Greg has proven his ability to make difficult decisions and he has worked tirelessly with me to build a brighter future for this community.
Our reconstituted management team works each day to advance the progressive agenda that Luzerne County residents deserve. I’ve personally come to know hundreds of county employees who make me proud to be a Luzerne County taxpayer. They care for the young, the elderly, the addicted, and the infirm; they process the thousands of pieces of business that flow though county government each day; they keep our facilities open, clean, and safe. These hardworking employees are an inspiration to me, and to all who have joined our team since 2004.
Now, having decided not to stand for reelection, I’m removing my name from consideration, so that Commissioner Skrepenak can identify a new running mate – one who shares the vision we’ve worked to realize during our term of office.
When I look back on our term so far, I’m very proud of how we’ve honored our commitments to improve County government and the quality of life in Luzerne County.
I’m most proud of the change in our business climate. While elected officials don’t create jobs, they do help to create the climate that encourages the private sector to do so and since we took office, Luzerne County has seen the creation of 7,800 private sector jobs – a net job increase of 5.4%. Many of those new jobs were seeded through county job creation loans, grants, abatements, and workforce training dollars. We helped clear the way for Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs to create nearly 1,000 new jobs – eventually helping to reduce your property taxes and enhance our county’s ability to invest in its future.
We reduced the County’s structural operating deficit from $17 million in 2004 to almost zero by the end of 2006, while lowering the tax burden and continuing to provide quality public services. Along the way, we made some tough decisions including, working through difficult labor negotiations with our friends from organized labor, reducing the county payroll by nearly 250 employees and selling Valley Crest when it became clear that the private sector could provide that needed service better than county government.
We’ve helped to develop dozens of community projects: Hazleton’s inter-modal facility; the Drifton Softball Complex; recreation complexes in the Back Mountain and Mountaintop; Movies 14 at Northampton & Main; the Joint Collegiate Bookstore; the Hotel Sterling; Pittston’s Lincoln Heights; Nanticoke’s Susquehanna Coal Building; the White Haven Library, and many more.
We have tripled Luzerne County’s annual allocation to our public library system. Through the Luzerne County Municipal Cooperation Commission, we’re helping communities work together to provide better and more cost-effective services. We helped create a vision for our future that caught Governor Rendell’s attention, and with the strong support of our state delegation, led to the allocation of over $250 million in state assistance to Luzerne County since 2004.
Last June, when the water rose and the new levee system protected us from incalculable damage, we showed the world how to manage a natural emergency. We began work on a new River Common, a project that will transform the Susquehanna from an object of fear to an asset leading us to a better future.
As proud as I am of our record in economic and community development, I am equally proud of our administration’s commitment to people in need, championed by my partner, Greg Skrepenak.
Under Greg’s leadership, Luzerne County has focused its efforts to combat the plague of drug and alcohol addiction and its corrosive byproducts. The operation of our prison, once a national embarrassment, now receives glowing state report cards, even as we continue to be constrained by an unworkable physical plant.
In addition, we’ve changed the way that county government does business. Today, we have the most public bidding and hiring process of any Pennsylvania county. From now on, County decisions may not always be popular, but they’ll always be made in the light of day.
During the next year, Greg and I will work together to complete a number of initiatives that are personal priorities:
Ø Advancing the creation of several regional police departments in Luzerne County.
Ø Finalizing a plan to use our network of trails, sports facilities, and natural areas to create a world-class parks system.
Ø Creating a consensus-driven program to maximize Luzerne County’s visitor opportunities and expand our artistic and cultural offerings.
Ø Beginning a groundbreaking Luzerne-Lackawanna Counties Comprehensive Plan, binding together the economic development, land use, and transportation futures of our two counties.
Ø Reforming the governance of the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton International Airport to ensure that elective politics cannot harm the operations of our region’s gateway to the world.
Ø Advancing a formal partnership between Luzerne, Lackawanna and Monroe Counties to ensure the advancement of our county’s freight and passenger rail needs.
Ø And, when finally ready the long overdue County Wide Reassessment to ensure that each taxpayer in Luzerne County is paying his/her fair share.
I am confident that Luzerne County government is running more efficiently than it did at the start of our term. Thousands of Luzerne County residents have jobs which they didn’t have just a few years ago, and Luzerne County is now in a better position to grow and prosper.
I want to close by thanking you, the residents and voters of Luzerne County for giving me this opportunity to serve. Regardless of what the future may bring, please know that I intend to continue to work to advance the well-being of our region so that we can all realize our individual and common hopes and dreams.
Again, thank you for allowing me to serve you.