Notes from the County Fall Edition

Great things happening at our Community College, we’re taking steps to take down a longstanding public safety hazard, and good fortune for the county budget. Meanwhile, the Republican “fiscal conservative” Commissioners continue to prove they’re not, and the Corbett countdown continues. That, and more, in the Fall Edition of Notes from the County…

  •  Our Community College’s new Advanced Technology Center at the RIDC Westmoreland complex is everything it’s supposed to be – a first-class facility designed to train students and displaced workers for the high-tech jobs of today and tomorrow. It’s what our local manufacturers have been asking for, and what our local workforce deserves.
  • The Advanced Technology Center also marked the first the time the county agreed to fund a Community College capital project without the state providing any money. Usually it’s one-third state, one-third county and one-third college. We made the decision to fund the ATC without a state commitment right around the time I first took office. It was a bold move then. And it will pay off for years to come with a stronger local economy.
  • My father made Volkswagens on that very site 30 years ago. How far we’ve come! Now perhaps, finally, we can stop talking about what people used to do there, and focus instead on what people are doing there and what they’re going to do from the skills developed there.
  • It’s been more than three months that I’ve been working without a staffer in my office, saving taxpayers about $16,000. During that same time period, my Republican colleagues spent more than $32,000 on their staffers. Yet, like the rest of the GOP, they like to label themselves as “fiscal conservatives”? Please.
  • The date is finally nearing for the county to take ownership of the Monsour monstrosity on Route 30 in Jeannette. The court has set October 24 for a “free-and-clear” sale. After we finally take control of the site, we can begin work to demolish this long-standing public safety hazard and prepare it for reuse. It’s not been easy, and, yes, it is going to be expensive. But for those who question why the county is doing it, the answer is simple…because no one else is, and we owe it to all of you to address this public safety hazard.
  • It’s been a busy summer for the countywide Drug Task Force I am co-chairing. And I’m hopeful the state legislature responds to our outreach when it returns to work this month by passing a critical piece of legislation, SB1180 (a prescription monitoring bill). Prescription medications are the leading cause of overdose deaths in Westmoreland County. Unfortunately, in many cases it is irresponsible docs, not street dealers, who are getting people hooked. There have been at least 52 confirmed overdose deaths so far this year, with more death investigations pending. It’s important for the proper authorities to know who is prescribing what and how often.
  • At least Commissioners Anderson and Courtney have finally stopped charging you to reimburse them to drive around the county. Something I’ve never done and publicly challenged them to stop doing. Good to know that you no longer have to reimburse their mileage to drive to a “business-related” golf event, ribbon-cutting or parade. Better late than never. But a cynic may suggest it likely has more to do with them running for re-election next year.
  • I am a proud board member of the Westmoreland Conservation District. The county’s annual appropriation to the Westmoreland Conservation District will be $75,000 less next year, yet no programs will suffer and no staff affected. It is possible to save real money with a little hard work and creativity.
  • Sometimes a little good fortune helps the bottom line, too. And in this case, it helps the county budget a lot. Thanks to a newer state law that allows us to use today’s actual market value of our pension fund instead of just its actuarial value, the county’s allocation is dropping from $9.9 million to about $5.5 million. I wish I could take credit for this (and I’m sure some will try!), but no one in the county can. Moreover, this change does not “underfund” the pension or put off our obligations either. It’s merely a change in how the plan is valued.
  • Kudos to Controller Jeff Balzer and his staff for their new fraud tip-line website. I will never fight against attempts to make county government more accountable. I can’t understand why the Republican Commissioners so vehemently did. Commissioner Anderson finally came around (three months after it was proposed). Why Commissioner Courtney continues to resist is beyond me. It’s quite simple…behave properly, and there is nothing to fear.
  • Down 30 points in some polls, Tom Corbett has resorted to the same tired Republican advertising strategy, this time trying to tie Tom Wolf to President Obama. It’s disingenuous, desperate and insulting to voters. He and any other candidate who evokes the President should automatically lose votes. They’re lazy. Come up with an original idea.

And by the way, it won’t work. The countdown is on to Governor-elect Wolf.