Several taxpayers launched a campaign against a proposed 8-percent 2014 tax hike during Tuesday’s Luzerne County Council meeting, promising to bring back-up if necessary.
“I will pack this house. I will do a rally. I will do whatever I have to do if you vote yes,” said Kingston Township resident Lou Ann Horsfield.
Kingston resident Brian Shiner asked each of the council members to state if they will support a tax increase when they vote on the budget in December.
Council Chairman Tim McGinley did not allow a survey and said at the opening of public comment that budget issues would be discussed in detail during four upcoming public budget work sessions.
Councilman Stephen A. Urban, a former county commissioner, and Councilman Stephen J. Urban both reiterated that they will oppose any tax increase.
County Manager Robert Lawton has estimated 160 layoffs would be required without the $8 million generated from a tax hike, in addition to roughly 55 layoffs to close a $2.77 million gap if workers don’t agree to concessions in that amount.
Stephen J. Urban said the administration should start imposing layoffs immediately in light of the fiscal crisis presented by Lawton.
Councilman Rick Williams said it would be “fun” and “politically expedient” to take a stance against any tax hike before budget sessions that will shed light on the potential mass layoffs and “severe” service reductions needed if taxes aren’t raised.
“It would be irresponsible for me to make a decision prior to that process that we have already identified,” Williams said.
Several council members grilled Election Director Marisa Crispell-Barber on Tuesday about the decision to use one company’s low proposal for moving election machines as a bargaining chip to get the selected incumbent company to lower its price.
“Do you know how that looks?” said Councilwoman Elaine Maddon Curry.
Crispell-Barber said the situation may sound a “little shady” but also was “smart” because she did not want to risk problems with the transport switching to a new company so close to the Nov. 5 election.
Representatives of J. Cawley Moving Co. in Jenkins Township complained during Monday’s election board meeting that the company was not selected with its Sept. 13 proposal that was $5,000 less than one from Matheson Transfer Co. After the initial proposals were received, Matheson was permitted to submit another proposal that was $500 more than the other company’s.
Stephen A. Urban described the decision as “a little fishy” and said such actions will discourage companies from submitting proposals.
The practice is not new. Before home rule, county officials used a low-proposal to provide records storage space to negotiate a lower lease amount from the current storage building owner.
Councilman Harry Haas said “a lot of people raised eyebrows” over the decision, and he questioned why proposals were not requested earlier if more time was needed to assess the competency of a new moving company.
Crispell-Barber said she will seek proposals months before the election next year and will ask any newcomers to publicly demonstrate their qualifications to handle the task.
County Chief Solicitor C. David Pedri said no laws were violated because proposals for professional services allow negotiation and selection of a company that doesn’t charge the lowest price, as opposed to bids for supplies that must be awarded to the low bidder.
Williams also questioned why absentee ballots weren’t mailed until Tuesday’s deadline, saying he does not believe that allows sufficient time for people out of the area to mail them back so their votes are counted Nov. 5.
Crispell-Barber said she will aim to mail the ballots sooner in the future but could not this time because she is handling ballot preparation in-house on her own to save money. She said voters were permitted to visit the office for absentee ballots before Tuesday if the timing of the mailing was a problem, but she acknowledged to Williams that she did not publicize that option.