Wednesday, October 02, 2013
Peg Ferraro on Northampton County Issues
A retired teacher, Peg spent 15 years in Upper Nazareth Township government before deciding to seek County office. She served on Northampton County Council from 1990-1997, and again from 2001 until now. Some say she is too wishy-washy, but that's not true. In fact, she has staked out positions that have cost her elections. Late last year, she stood up to bullies within her own party.
She and her late husband Dom were very close to my parents, and when they were ill, would bring meals over. Regardless what you think of her politics, she is a decent person during a time when decent people seem to be disappearing.
Below are her answers to my questionnaire. I know this has been an effort for the candidates who responded, and want to thank Peg (and the others) for taking the time to respond. Because some people have been hostile to candidates with anonymous comments, no commentary will be allowed.
By way of full disclosure, I have already decided tentatively that I am supporting Jerry Seyfried, Ron Heckman, Deb Hunter and Peg Ferraro.
1. Lehigh County Commissioners and Bethlehem City council have both toyed with the idea of rejecting pass through grants based on objections to the federal deficit, money owed to China and antipathy to charter schools. Would you reject pass through grants?
ANSWER - Pass through grants are just that “pass through”. Even though we might object to them on a philosophical basis, we can’t deprive our citizenry of this funding and benefit.
2. Most of Council's work is done at its busy Personnel and Finance Committees, at which every member of Council is encouraged to attend. How do you feel about participation at Council Committee meetings? Will you attend?
ANSWER - Absolutely. I will attend whenever possible. It is at these committee meetings that details of an issue are discussed. A strong committee structure makes for a stronger legislative body. It is not always possible to attend all meeting, but through video and minutes all council members are informed.
3. One candidate has rejected the concept of regionalism as one big mess that is harder to manage than a group of smaller messes. Do you support or oppose regionalism, and what regional projects would you endorse on Council?
ANSWER - Regionalism is a philosophy that I have supported throughout my political career. We hear objections at times to LVEDC, for example, but it does work for both counties. Potential developers have a place to go to look at not only sites available, but also for help with every aspect of relocation to the Lehigh Valley. The Governor’s Action Team has an office at LVEDC which makes for centralized help.
4. During the Executive primary, one candidate made a no-tax hike pledge. Do you think it is responsible to make no tax-hike pledges? If so, are you willing to make one?
ANSWER - In my years on Council, I think I have voted for only one tax increase. “No tax increase “is political rhetoric. It is time for government to look at continuous improvement practices and efficiencies that can be brought to government much as it is done in the business world rather than raise taxes.
5. In a 2011 plebiscite, voters told Council not to sell Gracedale for 5 years. The annual County contribution is currently in the $5-7 million range, so voters effectively voted for that contribution. But what if it grows? Is there a red line at which you would agree it is necessary to sell Gracedale?
ANSWER - Gracedale management along with union cooperation is proving that the right decision was made to keep this facility in County hands. Our employees at Gracedale make this home a “real home” for our most senior citizens.
6. In 2007, County Council voted to set aside 1/2 mill of real estate tax (about $3.5 million) for a pay-as-you go open space plan for preserving farmland, environmentally sensitive land and municipal parks. On Council, will you vote to continue funding open space? Do you consider this a core county function?
ANSWER - In the strictest sense open space funding is not a core county function but it is a quality of life issue. The voters overwhelmingly approved a tax increase for open space. At a recent meeting a revised plan shows that the County is looking ahead to future projects and some projects that are “tweeners”!
7. There are 11 unions county-wide. What efforts would you make, as a member of council, to encourage unions to consolidate and reduce the amount of time administrators and unions must spend in contract negotiations?
ANSWER - If a conversation were started by the County Executive in an effort to combine Unions, I would support the conversation as long as the expectations were reasonable and fair.
8. What is your position on laying off County workers? Would you support layoffs to balance the budget, or vote to increase taxes to provide the same level of services?
ANSWER - Once again we must look at efficiencies. Adams County is the first County in Pennsylvania to examine the way it manages its day-to-day operations. A visit to Adams County to see what changes were made would be of interest to me.
9. Northampton County, like Lehigh, has privatized the management of Gracedale. But there are those who would like to return administration to the County. Where do you stand on this issue?
ANSWER - Outside management is the only answer for the immediate future.
10. Some Council members would like to amend the Home Rule Charter to return to elected row officers. How do you feel about this proposal?
ANSWER - Absolutely not. This would be taking County government back to the political fiefdoms of the past.
11. Would you support a ban on guns by people using any County facilities, even off the courthouse campus, like at the new centralized Human Services Building?
ANSWER - Yes, there should be security at every building. There have been incidents over the years like the Ross Township tragedy. Unfortunately, these incidents are occurring more and more often in public places.
12. Will you support or reject a County Property Tax Reassessment?
ANSWER - Reassessment would be a major expenditure and it isn’t in the budget at this time. When a reassessment hasn’t been done on a regular basis, a reassessment hits the senior population or those who have been in their homes the longest time The hardest. From what I understand, tax income is neutral in a reassessment. One-third of homes pay more, one-third stay the same and one-third go down.
13. Would you support the proposition that the Prothonotary, Clerk of Criminal Court, Clerk of Orphans Court and Register of Wills should be transferred under the Administration of the Courts instead of the County Executive (through the Director of Court Services) much like the higher courts currently administer its own clerks?
ANSWER - This discussion is worthwhile and at face value seems like a good management strategy. However, the employees must suffer no reductions in benefits or rights if they become State employees.
Braden Airpark has become a topic of major interest to Northampton County since these questions were formulated. In my opinion, we must work to reach a consensus as to how this asset can be maintained as both an economic development tool and a parks and recreation benefit. It must not be turned into another field of warehouses.