Opinion: From Rick Mirabito
Letter to the Editor from Rick Mirabito, who is running for Lycoming County Commissioner.
After attending Cornell University and Boston College Law School, I came to Williamsport in 1989 to work for Judge Malcolm Muir. My brother and I invested our savings and started a business fixing up blighted properties 25 years ago. I manage that business with my wife, Sara, and our employees. We create jobs and tax revenues.
I was in the Pennsylvania General Assembly as the State Representative from the Williamsport area for three terms (six years). I served on many committees that dealt with county and local government issues, including Local Government, Finance, Commerce, Agriculture and Rural Affairs, and Aging and Adult Services.
I believe that we face serious structural problems in our community which must be tackled by the incoming County Commissioners. These problems include: (1) a heroin and prescription drug epidemic, and the crime that goes with it, threatening the County's ability to attract business, as well as destroying our quality of life; (2) a concentration of poverty, characterized by a lack of jobs and low-wage jobs; (3) many citizens who are living on the margins and are devastated by tax increases, including a large number of seniors who are surviving on fixed incomes; and (4) an unusually large number of homeowners in flood areas who struggle with high flood insurance premiums resulting from the Biggert-Waters federal legislation.
Several changes in how we run the County would help us solve these problems. As elected officials, we need to take actions that (1) bring transparency and accountability to spending of all public tax dollars and decision-making; (2) take the politics out of local government; and (3) bring common sense management to the decisions we make with your tax dollars.
Transparency begins with informing citizens about where your tax dollars are spent. When I was a State Representative, I sponsored and passed legislation to make all state spending available on the internet. I am committed to protecting taxpayers by bringing this transparency and accountability to Lycoming County. Transparency of public spending and decision-making empowers citizens to hold elected officials accountable for their actions. I have a proven track record of public service characterized by my commitment to accountability, accessibility, responsiveness, and fighting for transparency.
The record of transparency and accountability in Lycoming County has not been good. For example, despite reports for the last two years that the County's finances were in good shape, your county taxes were increased by 21% last November. That 21% tax increase takes about 5.5 million dollars from our citizens every year. Citizens should not be subject to surprise tax increases of this magnitude.
This dramatic and unanticipated tax increase was particularly damaging to our seniors on fixed incomes and working families trying to exist on low incomes. Such large increases also diminish the money available for investment by our business community and investments that lead to job creation. Transparency also means that government officials cannot use the right-to-know legislation as a sword against disclosure. Citizens should not have to file a right-to-know request to get answers to their basic questions. Information about all spending and allocation of tax dollars must be available to the public, regardless of whether a public or private non-profit organization uses the money.
Taking politics out of local government means making decisions for the benefit of the public, not for the benefit of elected officials who seek higher office or to help the political party they represent. The information about the 21% tax increase was withheld from the public until after the political election when one of the commissioners was running for another office.
Taking politics out of local government also means stopping the special interests from taking control of your public tax dollars. We cannot tolerate special interest favoritism in funding county projects. We must hold all special interests accountable for how they spend your tax dollars, whether the special interests are public entities or non-profit businesses. If they take public tax dollars, they must answer the public's questions specifically about where and how they use it.
In the areas pertaining to common sense decision making with your public tax dollars, we need to demand competitive bidding with all expenditures, even if transparency is not required under the law. There was no competitive bidding on the contract for the reentry program that costs the taxpayers over $800,000 per year. There was no competitive bidding on the $1.2 million dollar building in Hughesville for Magistrate Kemp that was at least $800,000 over budget.
Common sense decision-making also means that we, as elected officials, need to decide whether we are in a position to support certain projects and if the timing is correct. For example, the single stream recycling project cost $6.1 million dollars of your tax money and was done with no federal or state grant money to reduce the local cost. The County was not required by any federal or state mandate to do the project. As a community, we have to balance what we want against what the taxpayers can afford.
If we use the guiding values described above --- transparency and accountability, taking politics out of local government, and using common sense decision-making --- we can effectively confront the problems of crime, drugs, job creation, and Biggert-Waters flood premiums. Together, we can use our public tax dollars for the common good and not for the benefit of special interests.
I am asking for your vote for Lycoming County Commissioner on November 3rd to allow me to use these values and vision to improve the quality of life in our community.