County Council Candidates Address Property Taxes
Seven Democrats and four Republicans seek their party’s nomination for Luzerne County Council in the May 21 primary.
Six council seats will be on the ballot in the November election.
The 11-member council is the legislative body of county government, according to the county charter.
Council members serve four-year terms and are paid $8,000 per year except for the council chairperson, who is paid $10,500 per year.
The Citizens’ Voice asked each candidate to answer the same three questions about issues facing county government.
Question three appears today.
Robert Schnee replied in a phone interview, while Martin Dartoe responded during an in-person interview.
The others replied via email.
Question: What can council members do to avoid property tax increases while providing services to county residents at the same time?
•Walter Griffith, 64, of Kingston Twp., retired from the auto repair business and former county controller.
“The county council must start being responsible for spending by not awarding huge pay increases to employees through the manager’s “it’s my office and you can’t tell me what to do” attitude.
Council should and must stop allowing for unfunded mandates to bankrupt our taxpayers. The ability to purchase something in Luzerne County government should require the funding be available in the budget or capital plan and if it isn’t, then we do what taxpayers have to do, and that’s wait till we save the money for the item.
The ability of providing services to the taxpayers is the manager’s job, not the council’s, and we should require that everyone pays their fair share.
Council can avoid a tax increase by requiring the manager to reduce his spending on his wish list items and make our employees do the work that we currently are paying outside consultants and contractors to do, at the taxpayers’ expense, without reducing the staff.”
• Kendra Radle, 25, of Exeter, graduate financial services counselor at Wilkes University.
“In order to avoid property tax increases while still providing services to county residents, council members need to practice fiscal responsibility. Council needs to consciously analyze where funds are being allocated in the budget.
County council recently voted to contract a lobbyist firm in order to bring funding, grants, or possibly help to alter legislation to get funding for our county. While council members and taxpayers may be in disagreement whether or not contracting the lobbyist firm was a smart decision — now that we have them, I think we need to take full advantage and get as much funding back to Luzerne County as possible and hopefully get a good return on the investment we made in contracting Maverick Strategies.”
• Stephen J. Urban, 45, of Wilkes-Barre, IT support coordinator and former council member
“When it comes to the budget, the county manager should only provide a budget to council that has spending limits based on anticipated revenues. The county manager should do a line by line budget in public prior to submission to county council. He and his staff should be the ones justifying every line item.
County council members should conduct an in depth quarterly review with the county manager on the actual state of finances for the county.”
• Gregory Wolovich, 26, of Hanover Twp., quality assurance technician at Wegman’s Service Center.
“I feel the county needs to focus on finding sources of grant money and resources from Harrisburg to help fund our critical county projects such as the 911 communications upgrade and for new voting machines.
All too often, unfunded mandates are created where we are forced to come up with our own funding. We should utilize our lobbying firm and grant writer to locate alternate sources.”
• Patrick Bilbow, (incumbent), 50, of Duryea, principal of Pittston Area Middle School.
“We must do our very best to hold the line on taxes. With an elderly population and many operating on fixed incomes, even small tax increases have negative impacts on all of our families.
Our county residents absolutely deserve the services we provide. It is imperative that we are economical and efficient in our budget process.
Although I am a new member of council and have not worked previously with the county budget, I would apply many of my skills as a school administrator and looking at school budgets to the county process.
I believe that we as a council must work with county Manager David Pedri to constantly look for other sources of revenue for the county.”
•Martin Dartoe, 30, of Wilkes-Barre.
Dartoe said the current council members are not doing what needs to be done for the taxpayers who elected them.
“It’s extremely painful that we need a lot of change in this valley,” Dartoe said.
• Tim McGinley, (incumbent), 72, of Kingston, retired educator and coach, current council chairman.
“County Council will be faced with several funding issues going forward. During the first years of home rule, the council was able to receive several one-time monies to help fund the budget.
Many of the opportunities for one-time revenue sources have now been completed. Moving forward, the council must continue to monitor expenses while providing efficient and prompt service to our citizens.”
• Anup Patel, 47, of Rice Twp., owner of several businesses in the county.
“Avoid having to raise the taxes on individuals by attracting large based companies like the ones being placed in the Nanticoke area by NorthPoint development, in which major companies that have created thousands of new jobs in the lower Wyoming Valley are putting their employees on the tax roll for Earned Income Tax, which is 2% in the City of Nanticoke.”
• Robert Schnee, (incumbent), 60, of Sugarloaf Twp., works for the Hazleton City Authority
Schnee said the county can control expenditures, and thereby reduce the need for tax increases, by “working on our efficiencies and cross-training our county staff.”
Council members must continue to monitor and review the county budget line by line, Schnee said. Is is also important to eliminate any surplus funding requests, such as requests to add new positions after the budget has been completed and approved, he said.
• Joe Sebastianelli, 28, of Pittston Twp., teacher with Luzerne Intermediate Unit.
“I strongly believe we can lower property taxes while providing excellent services to county residents. The council will need to look at the budget line by line and eliminate any kind of wasteful spending. If elected, I’m even willing to slash my own salary (and the salary of everyone else on council) to help reduce the tax burden. True public service requires self-sacrifice and giving back to one’s community.”
• Jane Walsh Waitkus, (incumbent), 71, of Dorrance Twp., retired educator and professor
“That is the million dollar question, and there are no easy answers. One initiative underway is requiring hard work and research. As chair of the Real Estate Committee, I have been working with county administration to identify all properties owned by the county. We have identified many properties that the county will not need and could be sold to county residents. Many of these properties are strips of land in various sizes all over Luzerne County. Once a value is determined, the properties can be offered for sale in a fair manner. These properties will then be placed on the tax rolls, and can begin to generate income for the county instead of lying fallow. In this way the tax base will be increased.
And, finally, county council will continue to carefully review the budget each fall, and make cuts wherever and whenever possible.”
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