2010-03-11 / Local & State

Commissioners Kick Off Town Hall Meetings

By Chanin Rotz-Mountz STAFF WRITER

The Fulton County commissioners initiated their series of town hall-style gatherings for the year 2010 last Thursday evening, meeting with six residents in attendance at the Emmaville Election House.

Even though attendance numbers were drastically lower than normal in Brush Creek Township, the group appeared to be in unanimous agreement on several issues, including the need to keep real estate tax rates at a stable level.

In the midst of hearing an overview from Commissioner Bonnie Mellott Keefer on the status of the county’s facility ren- ovation project, county resident Lowell Stephens spoke up and commended the commissioners on “keeping costs down and not raising taxes.”

“The people appreciate it,” Stephens added.

Fellow Commissioner David Hoover II informed Stephens the commissioners are trying to provide the services residents need without raising taxes. Keefer added that the Board of Commissioners has looked at several areas, such as supplies, to reduce spending.

However, after learning that supplies only account for 2 percent of the county’s expenditures, they turned their sights on salaries and benefits as well as professional services. Salaries and benefits encompass around 55 percent of the county’s expenses, while professional services are at approximately 25 percent. Professional services include areas such as prisoner boarding.

The county, Keefer was happy to report, currently has 27 prisoners accounted for in its budget but has not yet reached that amount. Per-day costs for housing inmates in Franklin and Bedford counties are $65 and $55 per person, respectively. Benefits of utilizing services offered through the Franklin County Prison overseen by Warden John Wetzel are training programs and the day reporting center, which helps reduce the number of repeat offenders.

Keefer mentioned the county had previously inquired about having a feasibility study completed on the construction of a jail in Fulton County. An expert shared with that them based on inmate numbers and available programming at other jails, Fulton County should continue in its current capacity of having prisoners boarded in neighboring counties. The commissioners were instructed by the expert to continue until jail costs reach 30 percent of the county’s budget.

Another means of saving money shared by Keefer was the redistribution of workloads when employees retire or resign. According to Keefer, significant savings have been reported, and the commissioners continue to analyze this method routinely.

Keefer also shared that money was recenlty saved by shopping around for new health insurance providers as the county was facing a 45 percent increase. It is now only faced with a 20.9 percent increase.

Brush Creek Township resident Alan Fischer broached the topic of what he termed “the fiasco in Union Township” between the Union Township Board of Supervisors and some residents who were unhappy with snow-removal methods this winter during back-to-back storms.

“What do you do?” asked Fischer. “You’re darned if you do and darned if you don’t.”

Fischer questioned if the commissioners would have been able to point the supervisors in the right direction when help is needed. It was then mentioned the township should have an emergency coordinator who could possibly have contacted officials on a regional level for answers. It was also suggested that maybe other townships could have stepped in to render assistance.

“I think people have forgot what winter in like. What if it had been a national emergency,” concluded Fischer. “ ... I feel for those guys (Union Township supervisors).”

The residents also touched on residential septic system pumping required as a result of the adoption of ordinances in several Fulton County townships, including Dublin and Bethel. Brush Creek Township Supervisor Delmas Bard asked if anyone has an estimate or idea of how many residential systems could be malfunctioning at this time in Fulton County.

It was suggested by Bard that the pumping companies designated by each township in turn serve as site inspectors in deciding whether systems are working properly. That information could be shared with the property owner and Board of Township Supervisors to ensure that action is taken to rectify the situation.

Even though the group discussed the fact that the state Department of Environmental Protection seems to be targeting townships that currently operate their own sewer systems with the implementation of pumping ordinances, it was noted all residents of Fulton County will soon have to adhere to the same pumping guidelines.

“It’s coming,” concluded Fischer.

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