The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

September 18, 2013

Vinny Clausi responds to row officer salary cuts


Northumberland County commissioner chairman Vinny Clausi answered his critics in a lengthy letter to the editor, saying since his election he has worked with two goals in mind: cut wasteful, bloated, unnecessary spending and to try to bring new business and industry to our county.

Here is the complete text of his letter:

When I ran for commissioner six years ago, I campaigned on the promise that I would work to run the county as I run my own business. If I had run my business like the county had been run one of two things would have happened: either I would have shut my business down as unprofitable or declared bankruptcy. Since my election I have worked with two goals in mind: cut wasteful, bloated, unnecessary spending and to try to bring new business and industry to our county.

I stand by my record. What other politician would have proposed and fought for the cuts I have and succeeded in achieving them? Check out the budget from 10 years ago and compare it to today. Over $20 million in reductions. The bloated union contracts and health benefits continue to overburden our taxpayers. Do the taxpayers realize we pay more than $20,000 for each employee with a family plan? Most taxpayers in our county don’t make $20,000 a year in salary let alone receive benefits!

This current board of commissioners was forced to make drastic cuts 18 months ago when we took office to stave off a financial mess in the county. I should say Commissioner Bridy and myself recognized the crisis and voted to make cuts. Commissioner Shoch actually wanted to vote for increases to employees in the row offices held by his party. Isn’t it strange that now he is not supporting three candidates elected by his party to run for row offices?

Did the office holders step forward to work with us to make these cuts? Propose alternatives? Agree to cut their own salaries to save jobs in their departments, even if part-time to provide some salary to their employees? The answer was a resounding no! You heard them all claim how hard they all work when their own salaries were being cut. Where were they when their employees positions were cut? I’m sure each employee in every department did more work than the row officer.

We have asked our taxpayers and employees to sacrifice, especially our non-union employees, yet what sacrifices have our elected officials made? None! This is not right, this is not fair and I will not stand for it. Our district attorney recently complained of the case load in his office. He stated after we eliminated a position in his office how 25 percent was passed on to the other assistants in his office. Why didn’t he take his fair share? He makes almost $170,000 per year and yet he carries an adult criminal case load of less than five cases. Check out what the district attorneys in Snyder, Union, Columbia, Montour, Lycoming and all other counties carry. Our district attorney does juvenile court, has no murder cases pending and does nothing. This is a disgrace, but we have no control over his salary. But we do over others.

Look at all of our commissioners over the past 10, 20 or 30 years. All, except one — Cwalina — were men and women who had businesses or careers or were in successful retirements. They were not in it for the money, but for the public service. Our former sheriffs the past 30 years, again except for the current one, were retired police officers with pensions and benefits. Our treasurers all were either working or retired from the financial sector. Our coroners were a surgeon and the current one is a successful funeral director. Coroners by statute and by income are recognized as part-time employees and by court rulings. Look at the salary differences for coroners in all our neighboring counties, in all counties.

Are prothonotaries — called Clerks of Court — deserving of $50,000 a year salary? Are any clerks worth that? A Recorder of Deeds is not much different. Our current recorder has three supervisors and one employee. This is crazy. What business in the private sector has more supervisors than employees? Well, perhaps our state and federal government do, but what private business does?

Our current row officers, when they do show up, are not at the counters waiting on the taxpayer, but are back in their offices doing who knows what. Go to a neighboring county and see row officers who wait on the taxpayer and at much lower salaries. Our current sheriff rarely makes an appearance in court, unless it’s a headline case and then he’s at work for the photo opportunity. You see his staff working diligently, where is he? Fishing? Hunting? Playing with his under-used trained dog?

Many have complained about our not cutting the salary of the controller. The controller is the “watchdog” of the county. The controller monitors the spending of all the money. The taxpayers always pay special attention to this office and elect those who will watch out for them. Lou Horvath, Allen Cwalina (as a controller, he was a disaster for the taxpayers as commissioner), Chuck Erdman and now Tony Phillips. All four in that position fought for the taxpayer.

I’m tired of Mr. Shoch calling this a “dog and pony show” or a circus. Where was he when tough decisions had to be made? Looking out for his own self interest and his party’s self interest. Employees lost their jobs. Why doesn’t he support cutting salaries of the row officers? Perhaps if the row officers took more modest cuts we could have saved jobs for the working people in their offices, but I believe they were more concerned with their own bread and butter than their employees. Where is Commissioner Shoch’s recommendations? What has he done the past 18 months to cut spending and save taxpayer money? Are these not Republican principles which he talks about and fails to adhere to?

I was truly surprised at the lack of community involvement at the last meeting involving the cutting of salaries. All the row officers were there and their employees and friends and other political hacks. But where was the public? Many have approached me on the street and said it was long overdue. You hear the row officers and their employees all over the radio, some even on county time when they are supposed to be working for the county, and in the newspapers, but where does the public stand?

If our decision is so unpopular, in two years, the new Board of Commissioners can meet and decide to raise the row officers’ salaries back up, give them all raises and perhaps pass a tax increase to do so. I am willing to bet the everyday citizen will come out to that meeting to voice their opposition to it. My fellow commissioner, Steve Bridy, has said that elected officials are public servants and that’s what we should be. If we are in it for the money, then we shouldn’t be in it at all.

I have listened to all the arguments since the last meeting and talked to so many people, so many taxpayers, not the political types, and after talking to them, I see no reason to change what I did before. There is still time before the next meeting for the taxpayers, not the friends and politicos to express their opinions. I welcome their input and will consider it in my final decisions.

n Vinny Clausi is the chairman of the Northumberland County Commissioners.