Saturday, January 07, 2012

The LuLac Edition #1891, January 7th, 2012

Our "Interview" logo.


This week, as part of our returning feature, I sat down with a county resident/political activist that has some ideas on the debt and financial problems facing the Luzerne County Council.
1. The County Council has only been in office for one week. You seem very frustrated by their progress. Why?
The group has already splintered in nothing more than special interests. The two Urbans have separated themselves to the point of not even taking their oath of office in the court house, they chose to do it in a private home. One member has discussed with the media what the group voted on as being not yet public information. The Charter itself stymies the Council by keeping them from direct involvement in the day to day operation of county government. The Council is forced to operate with no authority.
2. The newspapers say that the debt can't be addressed for refinancing until 2018. Yet you say that the debt can be dealt with immediately. How?
The debt is a monster that was not created over night and several administrations have to accept responsibility for where we are. In my mind, the absolute only resolve is to separate the debt within the county budget. The numbers being bantered about indicate that the debt service for 2012 is just under 25 million dollars while in 2008 it was only 1 million dollars. The value of one mill is approximately $19,000. So to cover the debt, the county needs to have a debt service millage of 1 1/3 mills. That would produce $25.3 million. The debt would be covered and no longer a major problem for budgeting purposes.
3. The interim county manager wants to possibly raise taxes by 4%. Is that enough?
Not if the figures available are accurate. 4% as allotted by the Charter would produce $3.8 million but if you review the budget passed by Petrilla/Urban and Cooney, they simply removed legitimate expenses that must be addressed and refunded to make county functions operate. Examples are the magistrate rents were cut in half without renegotiating with the landlords. One magistrates office was left without funding for staff. Remaining Row Officer funding was eliminated and they must be paid by law. Deputy Row Officer salary removed from budget leaving no one in charge of the office management and no funding for the new county manger to provide supervision. This is the tip of the ice berg so to have a workable budget that does not include special debt millage, the 4% allowed by law will not suffice. It is important to keep in mind that the interim manager is not saying he only needs 4%, he is saying that 4% is all that is allowed. Special debt millage is not restricted in the Charter.
4. Can you separate debt service and the general fund? And if so, can you solve the debt issue?
As I pointed out above, the debt service can be addressed as a separate issue. The amount required to cover the 2012 debt payment is the highest amount needed to satisfy the ultimate debt retirement. If a separate debt fund is created, the debt issue will never be an issue in future budgets, it will have been addressed this year. I must emphasize that future spending must simply stop! An example of wasteful bond fund spending is the matter of the county's formerly proposed acquisition of a juvenile detention center. Ten million dollars was borrowed, the project was set aside but rather than simply repay the bond, the money was used for resolve the bond structures.
5. You seem very passionate about this. Have you reached out to the County Council?
Yes, I have emailed some members of the Council and expressed my willingness to help as a part time consultant (I was clear I am not looking for a full time job) and I have often spoken at public meetings and letters to the editor with regard to some solutions I think bear consideration.
6. Under your plan how many people in the county will lose their jobs?
None. If my plan were adopted and put into effect, the county would then have the time to implement a course of study that would result in a trimmed but functionable operating work force.
7. Does the county need to renegotiate with the unions?
Yes. Every employee should be a working part of government operation. There should be a need for every employee and a value placed on every employee. Contrary to popular opinion, county employees are not highly paid but do enjoy benefits that allow for a livable existence. I was among the original organizers of the county union and after some organizational/labor problems, I was elected as the first union president under the union certification. I am very familiar with the attitude of the union and I have no doubt that given the opportunity and real intention of fairness, the union(s) would cooperate and help resolve the budgetary problems.
8. You say that you can help the county with your experience in government and business, but with all due respect, your government service was in the 80s and 90s. We're 2 decades away from, that. Don't you think times have changed?
Certainly times have changed but people haven't changed and the basic problems of government have not changed. Government provides services and must fund those services. We all must keep in mind a quote I read that collecting taxes is not sinful, spending is. The hallmark of my government management experience was problem solving. All too often common sense is set aside and goals become the issue. I have never encountered a problem in government where a solution was not to be found. And keep in mind, my government management was hampered in that taxes were capped by law and general fund spending could not under any circumstance exceed 30 mills. That 30 mills was under the old system of property values and ratios. Under today's values, that 30 mills could run the city and the county with money left in reserve.
9. The county is in trouble. If you were "the guy", what would be the immediate steps to keep it afloat?
Obviously from what I've already said, I would first create a debt service tax. It would not be popular but it is a fact of life. This Council did not create the debt but they must deal with it. People should not complain because there were very few people at county meetings when this debt was being incurred.
I would then meet with each union and have an open and honest discussion about the fiscal condition of the county and ask for their help in the resolve. I wont go into detail but I do have some very pointed suggestion I would discuss with them. Union cooperation is paramount in solving the county's fiscal problems.
I would have an immediate hiring freeze. It must be considered that we have a new form of government and the Charter does call for certain positions and management will most certainly have to deal with new hires. I am talking specifically about current and existing positions. No new hires and the success of this program would require the cooperation of the unions.
10. Was the past administration irresponsible in the budget they passed. And if the answer is yes, why do you think they did that?
Yes, in my mind they were totally irresponsible. I mentioned earlier that funding was simply removed from the budget and much of it is required by law and by contracts both private and public. Why they did what they did is beyond me and only they can answer that. The obvious answer would be self political preservation. Mr. Urban has continued his political career and we have no idea what Mrs. Petrilla has in mind. We can assume that Mr. Cooney will return to private business or simply retire. These outgoing Commissioners need to share a good deal of the blame for silly spending. One thing that comes to mind is the fact that they pretty much closed Moon Lake for lack of funding and then spent a grant on consulting fees for a plan on how to best use the park. No money to operate it but spend money on a utilization plan. They had a financial plan prepared and it contained nonsense suggestions such as saving money by eliminating one paid holiday. It never dawned on any one that you don't save a dime if you pay a person to be off on holiday or sitting at their desk. The payroll for that day will not change but the plan called for a savings. And of course spending a half million dollars plus future maintenance costs on a finger print reading time clock is ludicrous at best. You can bet that the rank and file are at work every day but management? They still wont know what management is doing because of the exemptions as to who must use the system. My suggestion to them was to have a sign in/out sheet on every manager's desk and put responsibility on management where it belongs. My example to the Commissioners at the time was the old story that NASA spent millions developing a ballpoint pen that would write in a gravity free atmosphere. The Russians used a pencil.
11. My fear is that without a scalpel, all of the past inequities will continue. I realize County government has mandates and they have to channel federal funds from everything to transportation and social services, but can you honestly tell me there's no fat to be cut, anywhere?
No and I didn't say that. I did say that an immediate hire freeze be put into place and union meetings should be held. I also mentioned that the county would then have almost a year to resolve employee issues and that there are ways to reduce the workforce without the use of a machete but your word of choice, scalpel is an excellent method. Attrition and retirement will go a long way in resolving this problem. Incentive and cooperation are key.
12. Are you comfortable with the proposed set of candidates that have been leaked to the media and can anyone get us out of this mess?
In all fairness, I did not sit in on the interviews nor have I had access to the resumes. From the rumors and some media details, and if I were forced to offer an opinion, I would have to say I am not satisfied with the choices. But again, I have no first hand information nor have I been made privy to any background and experience verifications. I will say that I did offer a suggestion as part of the interview to ask each candidate to detail the most difficult management problem they every dealt with and how did they resolved it. As a former government administrator, I know that of all the questions possible, none are more appropriate with regard to ability than that.
13. If what you propose is so easy, why isn't anyone doing it?
I don't know. I also ask why I didn't invent the hula hoop or the pet rock. Simple ideas but only one person came up with them. I mentioned from the get go that common sense will deal with most problems and I will admit that when I sat at my manager's desk the first day, I didn't have all nor even most of the answers but experience doesn't come alone. Ask yourself, of those struggling with the problems, what experience do they have to deal with county government problems? Maybe that's part of the problem.
14. Any other thoughts?
Jeez, isn't that enough?


At 1:38 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I just read in the paper and the article reveals that the interim manager has been inundated with small left over tasks. Yonk, you know who you interviewed, get this person's name to the Council. Fast.

At 4:29 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Mr. Yonki,

Don't you think you should disclose who this person is? (i.e Mike Giamber who was a candidate for county council)

I am a current county councilman who never was approached by this person as being a consultant. Maybe this person has a personal agenda and is looking for a job just like his friend did who applied for the Clerk to County Council Position.

Mr. Yonki, please be smart and read between the lines as to who has an agenda here.

At 8:18 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Whether or not you separate debt service from the General Fund, part of the existing millage is dedicated to paying debt service. The bottom line is that millage will increase approximately 25% under this plan which would increase property taxes by $133 on every $100,000 ($266 on $200,000, $399 on $300,000, etc.). That's irresponsible!

At 9:41 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

We all know who this blowhard is

At 7:44 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You're kidding me, right?

At 12:47 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Let no good deed go unpnished. The man put ideas on the table. He said he atteneded meetings and wrote letters to the editor so the council member who claimed to have had no contact was not considering the fact that the information hd been made available. Iwonder if that same conucil member had been a regular attendee at county meetings? I tried to read between the lines and all I saw was what was written. No hidden agena and a clear statement that the person was not looking for a full time job. He offered his availability as a part time consultant. What co uld be momore clear than that. As for the debt tax meaning higher taxes, yes it will. Any high school student would realize that. But a high school student would also realize that there is a monster debt to be paid and it can't be paid without tax money to pay it. I don't think anyone including me wants to pay more taxes but the debt is real, the debt has been there and the debt must be paid. I did take the time a few years back to see what other areas pay in taxes. I learned two things: 1. Our taxes are small in comparison to other areas. 2. Our homes cost about half as much as the sme home in other areas. We have great homes at reasonable prices and our taxes are also reasonable. Why don't people scream about school taxes? It is the school taxes that are absolutely out of sight. In comparison, people scream about the 5 mill county tax while they sit back and never whimper about the school taxes which are almot thriple the county's. Logic? Just keep in mind that the county council and new manager are trying to resolve the issues and they don't have a magic wand. If all you are going to do is question motives and complain, you are not part of the solution, you continue to be part of the problem.

At 1:23 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

4:29, you claim to be a member of the county council and had never been approached by this person and you claim to not know who it is yet you know who is friend is? You sir - madam have no credibility. Could you please explain what you see between the lines? All I see are straight forward answers by a person of experience.

Hey 9:41, blowhard? Sounds like the guy has ideas, do you?

At 2:22 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anonymous has left a new comment on your post "The LuLac Edition #1891, January 7th, 2012":

The anon interviewers were fun when they were light and inane, but if someone wants to make three kind of policy suggestions, put a name on it or shut the **** up.

At 2:40 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why would we hire a full time manager and then hire Mike Giamber for a consultant. If the people wanted Giamber they would have voted him in. So now he wants to go around the voters and try to get a job for himself.

It looks like Tom Pribula and maybe this Lawton guy have enough experience to run this county.

Are we going to pay Mike Giamber to come in and tell us to raise our taxes? Why pay someone all this money if we keep throwing money at the problem?

It's time for Mike Giamber and his click to find another hobby.

At 3:14 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

2:22, I'm wondering if the person interviewed isn't interested in personal recognition? Maybe he put forth ideas as a form of help and not personal angrandizement. I read the interview and the one thing that stood out was the lack of critism of those now dealing with the problem.. The only critism I've seen are in these posts and I'm wondering why the complaints? Why bitch at a person who is offering solutions? You people absolutely amaze me and you would make a great subject to "Maybe I'm amazed."

At 3:22 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yonk, your damned if you do and damned if you don't. You interview barmaids to start this segment out two years ago and got hammered. Then you get a substantial interview and people hate it. Jeez!!!

At 3:23 PM, Blogger David Yonki said...

Guys......even though Giamber is a smart guy, he wasn't the interview subject.

At 5:33 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is unbelievable. I wonder if any of those doing the bitching have a clue? Maybe I'm amazed that they complain because someone came forward with offers of a solution while the only thing they offer the county are complaints. Truly amazing! It is no wonder that many good people don't want to get involved.

At 6:58 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

A problem we have to deal with beside the debt issue is that some of the wrong people were somehow elected to this Council who have no experience while those with experience were overlooked. So, once again, we the people have contributed to the growing nature of the difficulties we experience on a daily basis. Two of the former candidates who should be on this council are Toole and Simpson. Hell, if I remember correctly, Simpson put out detailed proposals to begin to deal with the debt issue, and was totally ignored! So, now this council is going to raise property taxes in a time when seniors can not afford it. Maybe it is time to move to a better county and leave this mess to the people who created it.

At 9:07 PM, Blogger PoorRichard said...

Hey 2:22, can you please tell us why a person is not allowed to offer suggestions unless he or she signes their name? What's your problem? Are you oneof those people who want the new form of government to fail so you bitch anyone who has an idea to make it work? You're the one that needs to shut the **** up.

At 10:04 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dave, bring back the interview with the Coors Lite chick.

At 6:03 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great idea, after reading some of these idiots, I could use a drink. Make mine a double!

At 9:25 AM, Blogger mgiamber said...

Sorry Guys, I had nothing to do with this interview.

At 11:11 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

10:04PM: Hey you should have seen that chick. She wasn't a drop dead model type but kind of like a girl you'd see working in a Wegman's or CVS. Killer smile. Gort retrieved a hat she saved for the Yonk. The Yonk wanted a beer hat for his dome but the girl was steadfast in not giving Yonk the hat because she needed a desgnated bar time to do so. The Yonk (who most likely had a curfew imposed by Mrs. LuLac, she being no fool) left. And Gort God lovwe him brought him the hat. Here's the thing, the chick was somewhat hot but she was responsible. I was there at Dan's Keystone Grille. I was a witness to history.

At 7:39 PM, Blogger PoorRichard said...

I think I need to make my own point. If the county council hires this California reject or either of the other two, I will lose any hope I have that this new form of government can work. This is the worst political mistake I have witnessed in my 60 years of life in Luzerne County. Not even the jerks who caused this voter uproar did anything so blatantly wrong in their political hiring. I am so disgusted.


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