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BROOKVILLE â Candidates for the Jefferson County Commission participated in a forum â sponsored by the Brookville and Punxsutawney Area and the Greater DuBois Area Chambers of Commerce, TURN (Taxpayers United for Representation) and the Pennsylvania Freedom Fighters â Tuesday at the Jefferson County courthouse.
Each candidate was given time to answer several questions read by moderator Randy Bartley.
These are answers to the first question posed to candidates:
How can county government be more transparent so people can be better informed as to what is going on?
â˘ Paul Bishop, a Republican challenger, said all voters should be able to find out what is going on in county government, and the best thing to make county government more transparent is to have more publicity in local newspapers about what is happening.
Bishop criticized Punxsy media, saying there isnât much coverage about what is going on at commission meetings.
âWe need to know when something is brought up, and when there are two votes â no, we need to know that,â Bishop said.
â˘ Jeff Pisarcik, an incumbent Democrat, said he thinks itâs time that taxpayers wake up and see whatâs going on in government â not just in county government, but also in the country and the state.
He said in the last seven-and-a-half years, Jefferson County government has been transparent.
âThereâs nothing that is hidden. Come in and weâll show you, because in years past, that hasnât always been the case,â he said.
â˘ Ira Sunderland, a former commissioner and Republican challenger, said the commissioners must tell the people whatâs going on.
âI have gone around the county for the last month or two, and many people I talked with didnât know that you doubled the budget, raised the debt service up to $17 million and raised taxes on these people 46 percent,â he said. âPeople say, âI didnât know that.ââ
Sunderland said when he was in office previously, commissioners talked about the budget at the meetings.
âWhen we did a budget, we used an overhead projector, so we could put all the numbers on the wall, so everyone could see it,â he said.
âAs far as leaving a deficit when we left office, we did not leave a deficit,â Sunderland said. âWe worked on that $11 million budget, and we did a lot of things during that time with that budget, which was as transparent as you can get.â
â˘ Jim McIntyre, an incumbent Republican, said there isnât one candidate who would not agree about transparency.
âI would say we were a very transparent board. The meetings are open to the public, and we have an open-door policy,â he said, noting that no one must have an appointment to see them.
McIntyre said commissioners discuss all issues with anyone who comes in.
âIn regard to the budget deficit that existed when we came into office, we made it up,â he said, adding that he was using sarcasm in making remarks about the budget. âIf anyone believes that three men of our stature would make up something like that, then we donât belong back in office.â
He said he would support any suggestions from any of the taxpayers as to how to make government more transparent.
â˘ Pat McFall, a Democratic challenger, said, âIf Iâm elected, I would have an open-door policy and sit down and talk about any of the problems of the county. Iâm going to make a decision based on the information I have. If I receive more information, that is a good problem to have.
âI believe we should be transparent, and it is going to take each and every one of you for us to get that way,â he said.
â˘ David Black, a former commissioner and Republican challenger, said, âI believe the more you people know about what I do, the easier my job is.â
He said that when he and the other two commissioners left office, there was a net asset deficit, which is nothing.
âIt is nothing that you or anybody else paid for,â Black said. âIt was the result of GASB 34 taking effect the following year that required counties to quote the value of their assets and depreciate them, which was a $3.7 million deficit.â
There was also an operating fund deficit within three departments, Black said, explaining that an operating fund deficit is when one uses local real estate tax dollars to take a department above and beyond the revenue that is received in the department.
âEach and every year since the Department of Development was created in 1983, it did not earn enough money from its administrative fees to pay the cost of the department,â he said, adding that the department did not break even until 2004.
âThere was a deficit every year that was budgeted for and paid for, with the same circumstances in the Registrar & Recorderâs office, Prothonotary and the Court of the Common Pleas,â Black said. âNone of these offices earned enough money to fund their department, and thatâs the reason for real estate tax.â
â˘ Paul Corbin, a Republican incumbent and current commission chairman, said he was glad this question was asked.
He said this current board of commissioners works very hard in the office everyday, and invites people to come in.
âI donât know how many times Iâve stood in front of groups and said, âPlease come in the office, and weâll open up our commissioner record books to anyone who would like to see them,â he said.
âThe comment was made by other candidates that when they left office, the budget was $11 million,â Corbin said. âYou might need a road map to find that. They might have presented an $11 million budget. The actual audit for that year shows expenditures of over $16 million. They didnât tell you how they paid for that. And they want you to believe there wasnât a deficit.â
â˘ Tom Swab, a Democratic challenger, said regarding transparency, if anyone has followed his career on the Brookville Area School Board, that is what he is all about.
âI worked the Sunshine Law to death while Iâve been on the school board,â he said. âA lot of times when things were discussed in an executive session, it was hard to get eight other members to go back out in public and discuss a subject that was discussed in executive session.â
Swab said open discussion is the only way that taxpayers could understand what was going on.
He said when he was first elected to the school board, he changed a one-minute time period for people to speak to the board.
âThey changed it to three minutes, and then I made a motion to allow them speak as long as they needed to so long as they didnât go off on a tangent,â Swab said. âAll of the gnashing of teeth and complaining started, but it worked fine.â
Swab said he also asked the board to allow for community comments at the end of the meeting, because someone sitting at a school board meeting might have a good idea, and that was also successful.
âI think itâs the only way to run a government. If youâre a politician, and you donât like it, thatâs tough,â he said, adding that he doesnât understand why commission meetings are held at 10:30 a.m., when he believes they should be held at night.
âIf youâre a person who works for a living, youâre definitely not going to make it to the meetings,â he said. âI will suggest if Iâm elected your county commissioner that the meetings be moved to the night.â
Part two of the candidates forum will be presented in Thursdayâs Spirit.