On November 3, I was elected third ward commissioner. After competing in an uncontested primary earlier in 2015, I began my campaign in August. My plan was to knock on every door in the third ward. Some evenings after work, but mostly Saturdays with a small group of volunteers, I went door to door. I was able to cover about 90 percent of the third ward before I ran out of time. Interestingly, I had about a one in 10 answer rate. Of those potential voters who answered their doors, all but a few were pleasant and kindly accepted my literature and quick campaign script. This door to door experience allowed me to get to know the layout of the ward and to have the opportunity to hear what residents had on their minds.
The day after the election, while I was collecting my yard signs, it hit me. I am representing the third ward as its commissioner. To say the least, I had a small pang of anxiety. This victory was an honor and a humbling experience all at once. I was elected to serve the community in which I live. I reviewed in my mind the reasons I ran: fiscal restraint and responsibility, preserve the Home Rule Charter’s checks and balances, discontinue what was then known as the “Newcomers’ Tax” which is our municipality unfairly appealing residents’ tax assessments, add an experienced certified public accountant to the Commission and reestablish respectful decorum at meetings and in communication.
On January 4, I was sworn in as commissioner along with other elected officials and our newly appointed municipal manager. It was a nice ceremony where the elected officials and municipal manager had their families present after which we all gathered in the main entrance of the municipal building for a reception. Family, friends and citizens all gathered wishing each other well and optimism for the New Year. Now that it was official, the next step for me was to reflect on my campaign topics.
Fiscal Restraint and Responsibility—I have reviewed the 2016 budget and had discussions with my fellow commissioners, the finance director and municipal manager to begin my education of the process. To understand how the budget process works will better help me make recommendations for improvement and uncover ways to be more efficient. The goal is to provide the appropriate services and programs that the citizenry want, at a high level in a cost effective fashion and in accordance with the authority of the Home Rule Charter. The overall objective is to manage the citizens’ money wisely.
Home Rule Charter—There was an ad hoc committee that put forth changes to update the Home Rule Charter. Some of these suggestions were to adjust the charter to gender neutral language and adjust the way the public would receive notice regarding certain issues. Another suggested change was to remove the requirement that an increase in earned income tax requires an equal reduction in the real estate tax. I am against removing this safeguard. Through disciplined budgeting and good decision making the municipality should be prudent in its taxing authority. The current safeguard via the Home Rule Charter helps with this stewardship of the citizens’ money.
Appealing Citizens’ Real Estate Assessments—I believe the assessment process is the County’s responsibility and that the Commission is not in the business of being a real estate assessor. I think this approach is wrong-headed. It is generally accepted that the real estate assessment process and taxes derived from it is more complicated than it needs to be and is a mess in Pennsylvania. The Pennsylvania Constitution requires uniformity in taxing upon the same class of subjects. The unintended consequences of this policy is similar houses with dissimilar tax bills, which is not uniform or fair. So I am firmly against this policy.
As I look forward to learning more about our municipality and serving the third ward over the next four years, I ask that if you have any ideas to please share those respectfully with the commission. Thank you.