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Nazareth, Pa., United States

Friday, December 14, 2007

Stoffa's No-Tax Increase Budget Sails Easily Through Norco Council

I expected last night's budget to be the usual disaster. Maybe it was the snow and ice. Maybe the Christmas spirit has infected council. Whatever the reason, last night's no-tax increase budget passed easily, and in only ninety minutes! Angle was the sole dissenter.

There were rumbles about the size of the cash reserve (McClure) and Stoffa's upcoming bond proposal (Neiper), but no one seemed in the mood for a fight.

Team Dertinger has lost its lustre. Dertinger could almost always count on McClure, Neiper and Branco to join him. If he could persuade either Grube or McHale, he'd have his fifth vote. But now Branco has been replaced by Peg Ferraro, and even Diane Neiper is beginning to show signs of independence.

The Express Times has a detailed report here. Update: Do you like the word "obscene?" Catchy, isn't it? McClure began using that word to describe the county's cash reserve last week, and he used it again last night. This time, both papers picked up on it. McClure has no power to invade the budgetary cash reserve set by the executive, so last night he figured he'd accomplish that indirectly by approving the budget, but proposing a lower millage rate. The Morning Call covers McClure's attempt. The word to describe this folly? "Half-hearted."


Anonymous said...

keep your eye on neiper. she's smart, and i believe she has an independent streak in her.

Bernie O'Hare said...

I've seen no evidence of either of those traits in her first two years. I've seen a partisan phony. And what really pisses me off is I voted for her. I won't repeat that mistake unless she improves considerably this year.

Anonymous said...

Any truth that this is the calm before the storm? Is the bond being issued to cover the coming re-assessment? Or will that be snuck into the next budget.


P.S. If the council approves the budget that contains costs of re-assessment, they are just as guilty as if they directly voted for it.

Bernie O'Hare said...


Costs for re-assessment have not been included in that budget. But re-assessment is inevitable.

Anonymous said...

Re-assessment, another bond, refusal to repay taxpayers one dime of the $50 million cash fund; all this and a new, shiny, governmentally efficient health department. Holy blank check Batman! Nobody will accuse Stoffa of being fiscally responsible, but this window-dressing, no tax increase stuff is disingenuous.

The "calm-before-the-storm," indeed. Hold on to your wallets NorCo. The Quiet Man has not yet begun to fight - for what's left in your wallet.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Severson cvould not have said it better.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps, and although I despise Severson, as well as what and whom he represents, I know even a broken watch is right twice per day. The Severson remark is a handy smear, given the past election cycle, but I'm not he, and the issues of Stoffa's voracious spending appetite will continue to be quickly dismissed by his friends. That's what voters get in a largely one party system.

Anonymous said...

did i miss something, or did council, except mcclure and dertinger, just vote for a tax increase? what was council thinking on this? Express Times said "Councilman Lamont McClure proposed trimming the millage rate to 10.3 mills, instead of the proposed 10.8 mills. A mill is $1 in tax for every $1,000 of assessed property value" and the Express Times thinks this is ok, also. whoda thunk it.

Bernie O'Hare said...


Yes, you must have missed something. There is no tax increase over last year. McClure and Dertinger would have forced Stoffa to dive into the unrestricted cash reserve to balance the budget, and that's fiscally reckless. McClure calls that cash reserve "obsence," noting that tax revenues are only $80MM. He's missing all the pass thru money, which brings the county budget up over $300M. You need two to three months of daily expenses in reserve. That's just sound accounting. McClure's proposal would eventually result in the county recklessly having to borrow money like they did in Luzerne. Incidentally, that's where McClure is from. Let him play those tricks there. Right now, Luzerne has to float a bond or it will actually default on money it previously borroweed bc its reserve is too low.

Let Dertinger and McClure play politics all they want. They both think they're in the senate already, anyway. But like SAtoffa, they should listen to the county's accountant, Doran Hammond. he knows what he's talking about. If they proposed something, and he went along, I'd have confidence in it. But without his blessing, it will always be seven to two.

Anonymous said...

Bernie, not everyone who questions the policies of Mr. Stoffa is Long or Severnson. Some folks here make good points. You encourage discussion and here it is. Stoffa may very well be right. But to question his budget and his claim of how much 'must' be held according to 'experts' is as fair as it was for any other past executive. I agree with the poster using the clock analogy, just because it may be McClure or Dirtydrawers, don't dismiss it out of hand. Lord knows the press has and will give this guy a pass. He may be the nicest guy since the Dali Lama but he is still working with our money. Mr. Hammond is a fiscal guy and if it were up to him we would horde everything and spend nothing. He advises - period. If his word is gold get rid of Mazzioti and Stoffa and let Hammond run the County and save two salary's

your blog is one of the only places this conversation can happen. Oh yea, I think I'm supposed to say - Ron Paul and a free press!!

Bernie O'Hare said...

Anon 9:42,

What good point is being made here? I'm not trying to be sarcastic, and am thankful for different views, but just don't see them as being very good.

First, both Mazziotti and Stoffa are themselves fiscally conservative. They are tight with the buck, and each has saved taxpayers millions. Mazziotti did it almost as soon as he was on board w/ the IT contract. Stoffa has done it w/ the new IT contract. He cut the $3 MM cost overrun at the courthouse in half. I could continue all night.

Second, the county is very lucky to have Doran Hammond. He's an inhouse Dean Browning, very good with money. It is his idea that we need two to three months unrestricted cash reserve. It's what Angle calls the seed corn money. We need this for unanticipated expenses that crop up during the year and to make payments when the state and federal government fall behind on pass thru money.

Third, McClure and Dertinger are being fiscally reckless. You're listening to the song of these sirens, and the music is alluring you, but they are dead wrong. The current unrestricted casgh reserve, about $48 MM, is by no means "obscene." That's about two months of expenses. Under GAO principles, that's what a municipal goverhnment should have in reserve. if we did not, you could watch as our bond rating plummeted to near junk bond status. McClure claims we are holding 60% of our revenue, and that's simply untrue. We are holding 60% of property tax revenue, but our total revenue is over $300 MM. We need to hold that sum of money.

Fourth, I would not trust a fiscal proposal from either Dertinger or McClure unless it was reviewed and approved by Hammond or someone else whose fiscal knowledge is equally sound. McClure is an asbestos laweyer. Dertnger is a union rep. Neither has any expertise when it comes to a $300 MM budget. I do trust Mazziotti, Hammond and Angle. I would not trust a fiscal opinion from Stoffa unless he had one of those guys behind him.

Fifth, I doubt seriously that McClure's motives here are to save taxpayer money. Perhaps I'm at fault here, and if so, I apologize. But I believe he just wants to be able to send out a campaign flier claing he proposed a tax cut. He wants to claim he votes no on spending money. But he's not really interested in succeeding. If he were, he's smart enough to know to get one of those guys behind him. They won't get behind him bc it is fiscally irresponsible.

Here's a sad truth. Our local government is growing sic times faster than our local pop[ulation. Why is that? How can we stop that?Where can we become more efficient? Is regionalization an answer? That's where, in my opinion, we need to be devoting our energies. McClure and Dertinger, I'm sure, could help find some answers if they become interested in good government instead of political games. But even if they are interested in good government, fiscal policy just is not their strong suit.

Sorry to go on for so long. I realize the idea of a tax cut sounds great, but look at what's really being proposed. Ww will dive into the cash reserve, and we can't do that. Just this year, we're going to have to spend at leasdt $2 MM for new voting machines, and this is after spending $0.5 MM for new voting machines just two years ago. Do you thing anyone knew that AVS would go belly up?

Anonymous said...

That comment was polemic. Angle/Stoffa say we need $40,000,000.00. County has $50,000,000.00. Dertinger/McClure propose cutting $4,000,000.00 and they are fiscally reckless. How about Angle/Stoffa keeping $10,000,000.00 more than they say they need ?

Bernie O'Hare said...

Anon 8:51, Of course this is polemic. You're pretty polemic yourself. That's the nature of discussion about government.

You claim Angle/Stoffa insists we need $40 MM. You tie Angle to a budget that he actually votted against. You are trying to present Stoffa and Angle as if they are some sort of team and this in itself is laughable. Angle just voted against Stoffa's health department. remember? They are both quite independent.

You state they claim we need $50 MM. That's inaccurate, too. They claim we need two-three months of operating expenses.

You claim the actual cassh reserve is $50 MM. That's wrong, too. The truth is that the figure changes hourly and it is difficult to pin down precisely.

Yes, reducing that reserve by $3 MM is fiscally reckless. No, the Stoffa admin is not asking for $10 MM more than the cash reserve that is considered fiscally prudent.

Next time, Dertinger or McClure want to deal in finance, they need to get someone who knows what he or she is talkking about. Stoffa's proposal is supported by Angle, Mazziotti and Hammond, and those are three very good number crunchers.

If Stoffa made a projection, I would not trust what he is saying, either. He need people who know finance to help. And he has them. This is not the place to be playing partisan politics.

Anonymous said...

BO, I wouldnt trust life long taxacrats potraying themselves as technocrats like Hammond or whomever, this is the genius group that talked Reibman into raising taxes by stupidly obscene amounts.

The money belongs to the people. Give it back to them.