Fresh Paint Days PA 2016 launched today. Please take advantage of this program or pass it on to an interested group in your area.
The application is online:
June 1 – program launch
July 15 – application due
August – applications will be awarded and paint will be delivered to winners
September – paint month
October 15 – final report and photos due
November 15, 2015
Last night council voted down a $20 Million Loan to pay for county services that are supposed to paid for by state reimbursements. Because of Governor Wolf's agenda of inaction, Luzerne County faces a shut down of services, payroll stoppage for employees, and setbacks on our debt service that have been hard won over these past four years. This manufactured crisis on the governor's part has severe consequences for real people.
This funding crisis was 100% avoidable, and last night's vote rightly puts the emergency in the lap of the governor. Please call the governor at (717)787-2500 to voice your displeasure. Every day that passes costs the taxpayers more money, and we can't afford 3 more years of leadership breakdown with grossly late budgets.
Please take five minutes to help; your call can help encourage Harrisburg to move desperately needed funds for county services.
August, 13, 2015
One issue that your county council debated this year was how to clean up unsightly "junk" vehicles on private property. In order to both protect private property rights and to contain the expansion of county operations I voted against the ordinance. Now, thanks to Keep America Beautiful there is a way to combat this problem in a way that preserves both liberty and cost. Click the website below to apply for free removal of your junk vehicle courtesy of KAB.
The benefits of Cars to Donate are that it: 1) removes junk from the community 2) is entirely voluntary 3) adds no cost to the taxpayer 4) does not expand the scope of government 5) affords a tax write-off for participants.
Please share this beneficial program with your neighbors and local officials.
June 3, 2015
Attention College Students: It's not too late to apply for a summer internship with Luzerne County to learn valuable skills in accounting, engineering, law, and human services within any of a dozen county departments.
Click on the link to view the application process, and invest in building your resume this summer as you serve the residents of your community in local government operations.
May 21, 2015
Yesterday was one giant leap for Luzerne County.
The management team successfully refinanced our variable rate debt left by the commissioners from 2006 into fixed rate. Not only does this greatly decrease our financial risk, but it will save us an immediate $3 million annually. Council has made some difficult and unpopular decisions over the past 3 years, and because of those decisions, market forces got us a rate of 3.7% way down from the 8% originally estimated. Furthermore, this stabilization actually shaved $10,000 off our general debt rather than increase it by millions like all the naysayers said. This epic news comes on the heels of earning our first bond rating in living memory.
There is no doubt that we are moving in the right direction. Thank you for your continued patience and support as Luzerne County climbs out of the pit dug from decades of bad decisions.
The 911 Inquiry Committee has concluded and issued its report to council on Tuesday, April 14. The full report will be made available on the county website.
In response to last year's headlines of late response time and switched addresses for dispatch, your county council chose to hold an inquiry of Luzerne County 911. The scope of this inquiry is to evaluate what council can do to assist county operations so it can be the best it can be. At the organizational meeting I was chosen chairman of this temporary committee, and we held the first inquiry meeting with the division head of operations, director of 911, and 911 leadership on Tuesday, February 3.
The summary of the meeting was that there are far more successes than areas of improvement. Over 98.5% of calls are answered in less than 10 seconds, state audits of Luzerne County 911 consistently rate "meets" or "exceeds," and despite funding inequities, the job is getting done well about the standard.
However, areas of improvement exist, and they are: increase rates of employee retention, recruit quality staff, target funding streams to increase staffing levels, facilitate address streamlining with municipalities, encourage regionalization where appropriate, conduct a public awareness campaign, and consider shortening response time.
Already in the 2015 county budget, 911 is moving from daily staff levels of 58 telecommunicators to 65. Also, there is pending state legislation to increase the fee from $1.25 to $2 per phone bill in order to appropriately fund 911 across the commonwealth.
The next step for the inquiry committee is to personally tour the 911 facility on Monday, February 23. In early March the committee will create a survey and distribute it to all the local stakeholders. After hearing public input from EMS, fire, and police professionals at the local levels in mid-March, the committee will compile the results and hold a final meeting with county 911 staff to determine action items. This will all be communicated to the entire county council on Tuesday, April 14 when the inquiry officially ends.
Should you have any input, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org in order that I can relay it to the committee.
June 19, 2014
With both the executive director and operations director of the Luzerne County Transit Authority facing charges for inflating ridership figures (a.k.a. ghost riders), some of my council colleagues have suggested that county council use its power to disband the LCTA authority. I wholeheartedly disagree with this heavy-handed approach for several reasons:
1) It oversteps council's boundaries. While section 2.09 B3 of the charter grants power to "alter and/or abolish...any authority, board, or commission, and the functions, powers, and duties thereof in accordance with acceptable law," the language of section 8.02 E speaks about removal from boards or commissions (not authorities, which is trumped by the state Municipal Authorities Act in section 5610 D) only for personal criminal acts or lack of attendance. I believe the charter and the MAA are purposefully silent about all three entities in order to protect volunteers from punitive, short-sighted, and political actions of the council.
2) It targets the wrong people. Several members weren't even serving at the time the ghost rider scandal took place, and another member was the whistleblower himself.
3) It sends the wrong message to both the current and potential volunteers to county authorities, boards, and commissions. The vast number of volunteers serve in order to give back to their community, and dismissing a volunteer based on the alleged crime of a director unfairly judges them as party to the crime, unnecessarily drags their name through the mud, and is a disincentive for others to apply when we are hard pressed to find quality individuals to serve in the first place.
4) It is a knee-jerk reaction to pacify a public weary of corruption. There are those on council who desperately want to prove to the public in a loud audacious voice that they are fighting corruption...often at the expense of the very government they claim to want. These antics make for good entertainment but don't accomplish anything. Now that the state has completed a lengthy investigation, the courts will soon decide the fate of the leaders of the LCTA, and if wrongdoing is found, punishment will be given.
The duty of this 11-member council is to work together for efficient government, and I want to personally thank the hundreds of volunteers who take personal time, energy, and expense to help us move toward that goal. That being said, I fully expect the LCTA authority to reorganize itself after this summer's judgment. Giving a public report to council on changes that can be made will also help restore the credibility of the LCTA. However, for council to intervene and disband the authority is to slay a dragon that's already dead, and that's bad fanfare for the crowd.
I am reprinting both a Citizens' Voice editorial published on Sunday, January 19 and one written by the Times Leader editorial board published on Thursday, January 16.
Both address the renewed tax collection debate, which was decided last year but could be repealed by a new council majority for what I believe are purely political reasons. Please read below. Thank you ~Harry
"New Tax Collection System a Step Forward" by the Citizens' Voice Editorial Board
Facing an 8 percent tax increase, reduced government services and nearly $4 million in long-term debt, Luzerne County taxpayers can only scratch their heads over a recent proposal before the county council to throw away nearly $300,000 in annual savings.
The move by some council members to reopen the question of replacing municipal tax collectors with a centralized and less-expensive system is fiscally irresponsible and inconsistent with the aims of the county Home Rule Charter, namely a more efficient, professional and transparent county government.
Their only motivation would seem to be political - that is, a desire to mollify a small, but influential group of 69 elected tax collectors eager to recoup their lost revenue. Council members, who support a return to the old system, believe the November election has given them the votes to repeal last February's 6-5 decision in favor of centralized collection.
A motion to reverse the February vote was removed from the council agenda following a closed-door executive session last week, supposedly to allow for negotiations with the collectors, who are challenging the change in Commonwealth Court.
But there really is no sound reason for entering into negotiations. Centralized collection passed one legal hurdle on the county level last year when a visiting judge ruled the switch did not run contrary to the county's Home Rule Charter or state law. The county seems reasonably likely to prevail on appeal.
And there is no great public outcry to retain the old system despite its supporters claim that taxpayers prefer the "personal" service offered by municipal collectors.
Under the old system, the county mailed tax bills to property owners, who then mailed payments to the municipal tax collector or paid their bills in person during limited office hours set by the tax collector. The collectors then remitted the money to the county, while charging a $3.50-per bill fee.
Supporters of the old system have never been able to quantify their claims that many taxpayers prefer to pay their bills in person and it stands to reason that the vast majority of taxpayers will never even notice the change, as it involves merely sending their checks to a new address.
And a new centralized system will have benefits beyond savings for the cash-strapped county by reducing the number of people handling tax receipts, allowing for better oversight and less opportunity for abuse and theft. The new system also provides options for online payments and in-person payments at the courthouse in Wilkes-Barre.
Supporters of the old system, who failed in an attempt to keep it in place last year by trying to negotiate reduced fees for municipal tax collectors, are doing a disservice to taxpayers by advocating an archaic tax-collection system that costs more, provides fewer options for taxpayers and features less-stringent safeguards against fraud. A return to the old, fractured system would be a major step backward. ###
OUR OPINION: LUZERNE COUNTY'S FUTURE New Council Risks Major Backslide by the Times Leader Editorial Board
Consider, for instance, the recently resurrected issue of whether to preserve the posts of 69 elected tax collectors. County council voted on this matter last February, with a majority of the 11-person body boldly deciding to abandon the scattered tax collection method in favor of consolidating the duty in the treasurer’s office. That makes perfect sense. In the 21st century, does this county — or any county or workplace — really need 69 people involved in money-handling tasks that can be accomplished by a staff of a half dozen or so? Of course not.
The notion that each municipality needs its own tax collector is both antiquated and silly. If Luzerne County’s leaders ultimately decide to bring them back, why not restore the prothonotary’s post? Or revive door-to-door encyclopedia sales, which, incidentally, Encyclopaedia Britannica terminated in 1996 because technology had made the practice obsolete?
Increasingly, area residents will pay their taxes electronically, much like they opt to purchase goods and services and to do their banking. That’s the future; let’s not pretend otherwise.
For reasons known only to them, however, certain members of this year’s council — including newly seated councilwomen Kathy Dobash and Eileen Sorokas — seem intent on bowing to pressure exerted by some of the elected tax collectors and their sympathizers. The whole thing smacks of payback for votes rather than sound policy.
Even Councilman Stephen J. Urban, usually a vocal proponent of using technology to modernize county services, has opposed the in-house collection method. And new council Chairman Rick Morelli previously expressed concern that county government would get all the blame if the method doesn’t work smoothly.
Show some leadership, folks.
In-house collection is most likely the superior choice and undoubtedly deserves to be tried. The county treasurer’s office already tackles the annual collection of about 22,500 county tax bills for Pittston, Nanticoke and Wilkes-Barre, which do not have elected collectors
If things proceed as planned, the office will extend its regular office hours for peak collection months, adding Wednesday evening and Saturday hours. Plus, a secure drop-off box will be set up at the county’s Penn Place building in downtown Wilkes-Barre.
Beyond those conveniences, the switch to in-house collection has this commanding advantage: It’s projected to financially benefit the county. Advocates estimate it will save the county at least $240,000 annually and generate $78,500 in new revenue.
Those figures should convince council not to reverse course on in-house tax collection. The residents of Luzerne County, excluding certain people with a vested interest in preserving old habits, want council to consistently vote for a more modern, cost-effective and efficient government.
Don’t repeal the ordinance that moved tax collection responsibilities to the treasurer’s office. Don’t reopen this year’s budget, prolonging a process that is unlikely to yield significant results, such as a substantially lower property tax increase. Revisiting prior votes and actions will result only in paralysis. Instead, put the long-term public good ahead of immediate political considerations and look to the future. Then carry Luzerne County there. ###
Dear Friends and Family,
I appreciate so much for your tireless work today making calls, manning the polls, and showing up to vote. Unofficial results show me in 4th place out of a total 5 available seats in a very tight race, so your every effort counted greatly!
Thank you to all the voters of Luzerne County who put their faith in me to serve a second term as your councilman. You have my continued pledge to make the hard decisions based on conscience and not politics.
And while I will greatly miss council members Elaine Curry and Gene Kelleher who have served in such a manner, I look forward to working with newcomers Eileen Sorokas and Kathy Dobash and the other members of council in order to steer our county through the difficult waters ahead.
President John F. Kennedy, when speaking on landing a man on the moon, told America that we take on such challenges "not because they are easy, but because they are hard."
As your councilman, I have made the hard decisions based on conscience, not on politics or popularity.
I'm asking you to send me back to council in order to continue the challenge of getting us out of debt, laying the foundation of Home Rule government, and restoring honor and decency in Luzerne County.
October 24, 2013
Luzerne County is traveling in the right direction. Please help me continue with your vote on November 5! My remarks that follow are posted on the Citizens' Voice online Voters' Guide.
Since hiring our first professional manager 20 months ago, the county council and manager have:
+moved towards right-sizing our workforce from about 1,630 to 1,450 employees, or an 11% reduction
+decided to collect taxes through the treasurer's office instead of elected collectors, which will save over a quarter of a million dollars yearly
+eliminated outdated elected row office management and hired new division heads: annual salary savings of nearly $150,000
+consolidated our bank accounts from 147 down to 30, which will result in less fees and allow for greater cash flow
+invested in new accounting software, which will increase accountability for all county departments and encourage efficiency
+implemented an application process in order to increase citizen participation on county authorities, boards, and commissions that eliminates the old system of strictly political appointments
+posted email correspondence between members of council on the county website to increase public transparency; held council meetings in Nanticoke, Hazleton, Drums, and Forty Fort to increase citizen accessibility
Clearly, Home Rule government is on the right path. Some will complain that the pace is too slow or nitpick the inevitable missteps that will occur when switching from one of the most notoriously corrupt governments in the state to one run by a part-time council of average citizens.
Check out more of my comments and compare with other candidates at http://c3.thevoterguide.org/v/tsn13/
October 21, 2013
Attention supporters and all voters: come learn about all the candidates at tonight's
October 18, 2013
Luzerne County Candidates Forum
(sponsored by the WB Downtown Residents' Association)
Monday, Oct. 21, 7:00 - 9:00 p.m.
Wilkes University Henry Center Ballroom
Thank you to all my supporters who came to last night's campaign event at The Cafe in Plains.
Taking time out of your busy schedule means the world to me.
Special thanks to Jim O'Meara, Renita Fennick, and Dave Baloga for planning the event; to Dave Hage for playing music; to Tony Brooks for offering prayer; and especially to Daniel for saying the pledge so perfectly. I also greatly appreciate the host committee for financially sponsoring the event. We raised ample funds to propel us to the finish line on November 5.
For those who couldn't make it, we need your help at the polls on election day.
Please contact the campaign though this site to sign up for a polling place and time slot.
Thank you again, everyone!
Coffee & Dessert
Thursday, Oct. 17, 6-7:30 p.m.
Route 315 Plains Township
Tickets will be available at the door.
Join Harry Haas for an informal meet-and-greet as he seeks re-election to Luzerne County Council. Stop by on your way home from work and talk to Harry about his goals for making Luzerne County government more efficient, transparent and accountable. Harry would like to catch up with old friends and supporters as well as new ones. This is your chance to meet Harry in an informal setting. Have some coffee or tea, and enjoy The Cafe's delicious desserts to support an honorable candidate.
The Cafe's website: http://www.thecafepa.com/
September 24, 2013
More progress for Luzerne County Home Rule at tonight's council meeting: bank accounts will be consolidated from 147 down to 30 by December and save thousands of taxpayer dollars.
Under the old form of government, there were many row offices with separate accounts. This allowed for unnecessary duplication, inefficiency, and excessive fees. Manager Lawton and the team highlighted other attributes:
+the biggest savings will be in operations: no more fees for copies of financial documents, for withdrawals, or for transfers.
+accountability will be increased: check searches are now instantaneous rather than a cumbersome search; the controller will also have "view only" access for monitoring.
+the county will now be able to leverage millions of dollars rather than have it locked up in small portions in dozens of areas; readily available cash flow will allow Luzerne County to deal more effectively with unforeseen contingencies that arise.
I view tonight's report as the very essence of Home Rule: making professional decisions that will yield great savings over the long haul.
Yours on council,
September 19, 2013
Recent council updates include those from:
Hazleton Transit Authority, who expressed strong disagreement with a state-encouraged plan to merge with Luzerne County Transit Authority. Regarding service, I was very impressed to see that routes, buses, and maintenance are contracted out. The competition is between two different carriers, and it keeps efficiency up and costs down. Visit http://www.ridehpt.com/ to see that neighboring municipalities enjoy bus service, not just Hazleton city. The general consensus was that things are going well with bus service and that a merger would not be considered by council at this time.
Judicial Services (Clerk of Courts, Register of Wills, Prothonotary, Sheriff, and Coroner, who reported on midyear budgeting. Altogether, this division accounts for approximately $6.5 million in county expenditures from the overall $122 million. While it is a small percentage, I see an opportunity for great long-term savings as employees are cross-trained with different skills, increase their professional value to both themselves and to the county, and increase department flexibility and efficiency. This is the essence of Home Rule. Therefore, I inquired about the status of job description refinement and consolidation. Answer: the process is in negotiations between the county and two separate unions.
Also, congratulations are in order to:
Walter Mitchell, who was appointed Interim Controller and will serve until year's end.
Brian Szumski, who was appointed Interim Sheriff.
Jack Robshaw, who was hired as full time 911 executive director.
Lastly, expect to see in upcoming weeks:
The long awaited consolidation of many county bank accounts once the RFP (Request For Proposals) process is complete.
Manager Lawton's report on proactive actions the county can take to prevent crime in our area. How we deliver human services, reduce recidivism in our prison, levy fees and direct those monies to areas that prevent, not merely punish, crimes are all worthy of study. Once our leadership finds cost effective steps it can take in-house, my vision for Luzerne County is to be a catalyst for bringing our municipalities together in discussion in order to find better ways of deterring crime. I have seen one borough lose officers and one township host its first crime watch meeting this past week alone. Government is not the solution for curing criminal behavior, but it can take some commonsense and low cost steps to protect law-abiding citizens.
I am grateful that Republican voters chose me at the polls yesterday to represent them in the fall general election.
I will continue to work hard to lay the foundation of Home Rule government in Luzerne County for the sake of all our people. Check this website for periodic updates and my explanation for votes as your councilman.
Thank you for your confidence!
May 22, 2013: Joan Hoggarth was nominated by council (7-2; 1 abstention; 1 absence) as Division Head of Judicial Records. I abstained.
May 17, 2013
To “abstain” means to “refrain deliberately from an action or practice.” It is therefore fair to say that my abstention of last Tuesday’s vote on the Judicial Services Division Head equates with inaction. For slowing down the progress of Home Rule I am truly regretful.
However, given the long history of “pay-to-play” politics in our area, it is my duty to be vigilant against opening up our county, myself, or my supporters to even the slightest appearance of impropriety. For that, I do not regret my vote whatsoever. If a donor to my campaign sits on the nominating board, I must abstain. Four finalists were selected, and although the manager ultimately chose the nominee, my conscious directed me to take the correct action. One member of council who took hundreds of dollars of campaign donations from tax collectors and who voted lock-step when given the cost-saving opportunity to collect taxes in-house actually had the audacity to call my vote a “cop out.” If the opposite of that label is a “sell out,” then I’ll wear that badge proudly.
To those in the general public who constantly decry a lack of transparency yet view my very transparent abstention as a weakness, I encourage you to reexamine what the word “consistency” truly means: “firmness of character” and “harmony of conduct.”
Going forward, I will again abstain from voting on the next Judicial Services appointment for the reasons mentioned above. Going forward, I will continue to serve the citizens of Luzerne County with consistency, honor, and character.
April 28, 2013: Thank you to all the volunteers who participated in the cleanups at Moon Lake and Seven Tubs!
April 17, 2013
Along with the warming weather, longer days, and lifted spirits comes the annual task of "spring cleaning." In Luzerne County, we are eager for better days that lay before us and plan to do some spring cleaning of our own. I invite all citizens who would like to lend a hand to do so at this year's Great American Cleanup of Pennsylvania scheduled for Saturday, April 27 from 8-11am. Our goal is to clean up two of our county-owned parks: Moon Lake and Seven Tubs Nature Area.
PennDOT has offered to supply work gloves, vests, and trash bags; our county Buildings and Grounds Department has offered to haul compost and litter away; all we need are able-bodied volunteers. We need you!
Volunteering for the Luzerne County Cleanup is beneficial in these ways:
-It restores the natural beauty of two of our best treasures.
-The only cost is the time of the volunteers.
-It instills in the younger generation the civic duty to serve. (volunteers under 18 must be accompanied by an adult)
-Pride comes from a job well done.
-It's a chance to get to know others from the community.
-It offers an excuse to get out and enjoy nature in our own back yard.
-Did I mention there is no cost?
Our area has a rich tradition of people giving back to the community. This cleanup continues in that tradition.
Please consider one of two projects:
1) Moon Lake Park Beautification: volunteers will rake leaves, pick up fallen branches, and clear loose brush. There isn't much litter, but the park looks tired from lack of funding over the past few years. Plan to bring rakes or other tools that may be helpful.
2) Seven Tubs Litter Management: volunteers have the less glorious job of picking up litter that scatters the park. Some have dumped garbage at the site, and a few hours worth of work will greatly improve the environment there.
To participate in either cleanup, please follow these steps:
1) Email your name, number of volunteers, phone number, and venue choice to email@example.com
2) Arrive at 8am. (Dress in work clothes and in layers as mornings in late April still tend to be chilly.)
3) Fill out a volunteer form.
4) Stay and help as long as you like.
Thank you in advance for helping make our county a better place to live. See you on the 27th!
February 18, 2013
As in the past, I owe it to the people to write my reasoning for a very difficult issue faced by your County Council:
Last week council voted 6-5 to change tax collection from locally elected officials to in-house county employees in the Treasurer's Office. I sided with the majority.
Initially I wanted to retain the current system because many elderly people do still pay in cash and appreciate the face-to-face relationships. I'm also a small-government guy who believes like Jefferson that "the best government is that which governs least," so local control of tax collection rather than the central consolidation also resonated with me. Nonetheless, my opinion changed as I examined all perspectives.
1) County collection of taxes will shrink government. Instead of 69 part time, commission-based collectors, we will have 2-3 full time employees who will be cross trained and be able to complete other tasks during off peak tax collecting months. Accordingly, pay will be reduced from $440,000 to $287,000 annually and realize a savings of $153,000 for taxpayers.
2) County collection of taxes will give more payment options to the taxpayer.
Citizens will be able to pay taxes: online with a credit or debit card, via lockbox at a local bank, through mail by check or money order, in person at the courthouse, or at local senior centers around the county staffed by a county employee from the treasurer's office. The centers are already paid for by state Area Agency on Aging funds; the county worker will run a circuit every week and be available at least once day a week during peak tax times.
3) County collection of taxes will increase efficiency over the current system. I visited with tax collectors and the treasurer's office first hand. I saw the same process of scanning the tax bill, creating a batch on the RBS system, logging the tax, stamping the payment, bundling the payments, and storing all in a secure location. The difference: taxes will be deposited daily into county coffers rather than have them trickle in weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly. This will not only increase our rate of interest, but it will help expedite cash flow.
4) County collection of taxes is strongly encouraged by many of our municipalities, school districts, other PA Home Rule counties, the PA Economy League, the PA Legislature, our 2011 Tax Collection Audit, and our county manager. The lack of adequate "cash flow", or money on hand to do business, causes problems for our local school districts and boroughs and townships. Under the current system, many have to wait extra weeks for the collections in order to pay for expenses. The leaders I spoke with overwhelmingly encouraged the county to take advantage of collecting in-house. This way, the cash is there immediately after it's paid rather than wait for the state-mandated monthly deposit from collectors. Also, the close of 2012 nearly required the county to take out a promissory note in order to cover payroll, but a steady flow of tax revenue would have greatly decreased the need to take on more loans and thus saved taxpayer money. I did exhaustive reading of studies and past audits regarding this issue, all of which concluded in-house collection is the best choice. Most poignantly, other Home Rule counties cited in-house collection as being one of the best decisions they've made.
5) County collection of taxes is the right choice to make now. There is physical room in the treasurer's office; the software is in place; there are terminals sitting waiting to be used; the mode of service will be different, but service will continue.
I leave you with a brief story: My grandmother was upset when home milk delivery stopped in the early 1980's. She loved the service, and found it difficult to accept. She was the type who paid her phone bill at the Commonwealth building using dollars and coins. But by her early eighties she was sending checks in the mail and picking her milk up at the ACME. The dairies had to meet the bottom line; the phone company had to meet the bottom line; Luzerne County has to meet the bottom line. The elderly folks who I spoke with want us to save as much money as possible and said they could make the adjustment. I will continue the vision of our council to pay down our massive debt by considering whatever options our manager proposes regardless of their popularity.
PS: Elected tax collectors will still collect school district and municipal taxes in 2014.