2012-05-24 / Front Page

Plenty Of Debate At Eichelberger Town Meeting

Residents talk school consolidation, savings ideas
By Chanin Rotz-Mountz
STAFF WRITER

Even though only 17 people were on hand for last Thursday’s town meeting hosted by Sen. John Eichelberger Jr., there was plenty of debate and even more ideas proposed by residents on how to save money on both a state and local level.

Sen. Eichelberger kicked off the gathering at Needmore Firehall with a special airing of an eight-minute video entitled “Four Alarm Fire” that presents taxpayers with an overview of four skyrocketing areas of the state budget that for the time being must be paid. Produced by the Commonwealth Foundation, the video featuring the senator identifies the budget’s four deficient areas as pensions, welfare, debt and the department of corrections.

According to the video, the “budget is a fiscal house on fire” that erupted in the late 1960s or 1970 and has continue to burn regardless of party affiliation leading the state. The fix suggested to viewers includes holding the line on taxes; the state government living within its means; prioritizing every dollar; funding results, not programs; and eliminating unnecessary spending.

As a follow-up to the video, residents peppered the senator with questions on an array of topics such as PennDOT contracting out more services, like snow-plowing, that could ultimately lead to savings on equipment costs as well as manpower. It was further alleged PennDOT refuses to or has failed to performed some necessary services locally such as tree cutting and culvert repairs.

County Chief Clerk Dan Swain learned from the senator the state’s rainy day fund has reached rock bottom and in recent years practically every budget category has been reduced. Eichelberger did assure local senior citizen advocate Virginia McDonald, however, that lottery money, which funds an array of senior programs and services, has not been spent.

In addition, Eichelberger fur- ther shared with Swain the state’s debt service has risen from $390 million to more than $1 billion. Excessive borrowing on an annual basis has led to the crisis, it was noted.

Local resident Marty Hann debated the topic of healthcare for all Pennsylvania residents with Eichelberger, who said he would not support former Senate Bill 400 in the event it would make it out of committee to the Senate floor.

“I don’t think it’s the right thing for us to do,” Eichelberger told Hann. “We have to do something that is constitutional and not a socialized program such as Obama Care.”

Hann maintained the measure would help the economy by providing jobs and bringing in business while also providing everyone in the commonwealth with healthcare.

Looking for some definitive, hard answers, Carrie Clippinger pointedly asked Eichelberger his plans for fixing the budget and what exactly could be eliminated or cut. The senator said the state will present a balanced budget, but in some areas, such as social services where there is a lot of profit as well as abuse, the focus should be on delivering core services and weeding out fringe services.

Eichelberger also proposed a reduction in school funding, which caused several residents on hand to suggest a consolidation in either administrative services or small, rural schools. It was noted that in light of a recent resignation at the Forbes Road School District, the idea of sharing a top administrator was reportedly discussed but did not receive enough support from school board members across the county.

In terms of consolidating the three county schools, Southern Fulton School board member Danny Crouse pointed out his district has done well over the years in terms of being careful with spending and saving money. He said it would be unfair to his district taxpayers to consolidate the schools and split their funds with Forbes Road and Central Fulton. Crouse went on to suggest saving money by buying in bulk.

School-related statistics shared by the senator included a comparison between the number of students lost in Pennsylvania schools to the number of employees hired over a span of years. Those numbers were respectively aired at 35,510 and 35,821.

Eichelberger suggested schools as well as other organizations that receive state money take on a “do more with less” attitude.

County Commissioner Irvin Dasher stated that most of the programs suggested at the town meeting for elimination or reductions affect lower- and working-class people. Dasher asked why the burden must fall on those individuals instead of the upper class.

“By not raising taxes, aren’t you putting the burden on the people who receive the services and make the least amount of money,” Dasher questioned. “Shouldn’t we look for better value in programs and not cut wages and jobs?”

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