Local chambers host Wayne, Pike commissioners at breakfast

Wayne County Commissioner Chairman Brian Smith said Friday that there is no guarantee county taxes won’t have to rise, but armed with “reason and a calculator,” they are doing what they can to avoid the possibility.

Wayne County Commissioner Chairman Brian Smith said Friday that there is no guarantee county taxes won’t have to rise, but armed with “reason and a calculator,” they are doing what they can to avoid the possibility. 
He and his fellow Commissioners, joined with their comrade from Pike County, Chairman Richard Caridi, explained the challenges and outlook over breakfast at Ehrhardt’s Waterfront Banquet Center. Collaboration is key to the efforts, as was emphasized by both commissioners and their morning hosts, four local chambers of commerce.
Commissioner Anthony Herzog stressed their efforts at being fiscally prudent and quipped to the bankers that they would have to cope without another county loan to finish projects underway. The new Wayne County Prison is done and the old jail is coming down. With left over bond issue money from the prison project and grants, they are able to build a much needed Emergency Operations Center without raising taxes or borrowing more money. Also underway is renovation of the former Work Release Center building on 10th Street, for a more visible office of Wayne County Job Training, which should be ready by fall.
WEDCO’s business park and labor force training through Workforce Wayne were cited as examples of prudently planning for economic growth. Wayne, Herzog noted, is fortunate to have less population growth pressure than its neighbor, Pike County.
While watching county budgets,, both counties are mandated to provide basic services to their people, said Commissioner Wendell Kay. These include the Drug & Alcohol Commission, Mental Health/Mental Retardation, Children & Youth and Area Agency on Aging, bringing in hundreds of clients. “Be aware that the programs, which serve the needest...are most dependent on state and federal dollars,” Kay said.
With human services making up about a third of the Wayne County budget of roughly $30 million, if the state decided to cut funding by 20 percent, Wayne County would lose about $1-1/2 million. “This is a huge amount,” said Kay. “This is what keeps us awake at night, thinking if the state money is cut, do we continue services, or raise taxes?”
Kay added, “We’ll be judged by how we were able to serve the least fortunate among us.”
Jim Shook, 1st Vice-president of the Hawley Lake Wallenpaupack Chamber, asked if the Wayne County Commissioners had a plan to raise taxes.
Kay stated an increase is not projected, but that may have a bad choice should the state cut funding. Smith and Herzog noted how the County is working at watching expenses. County employees have agreed to contribute to their health care; department heads were asked to look for ways to save. If a vacancy occurs, the department head needs to justify why the spot should be filled.
Caridi spoke about the challenges of sustaining their valued resources in Pike County, which he compared to a “tender jewel.” An environmental catastrophe, he said, would ruin Pike and their tourist base. Pike’s municipal governments have had to learn to work together on planning. A major emergency service training facility is being developed, which he said  they would share with Wayne County.
Lake Ariel businessman Michael Kwiatek raised the specter of a growing drug and alcohol problem in the region. Herzog said this is a dreadful problem, but one that is extremely under funded by the state. As much as 80 percent of the crimes committed in both Pike and Wayne are linked to alcohol or drug abuse.
Caridi, who had been warden of the Pike County Jail, lauded the volunteers who come in and minister to the prisoners and help them change from the inside out.
On gas leasing, Smith stated that the County will need to take advantage of anticipated revenue, but they remain concerned that gas extraction is done in an environmentally safe manner. Caridi blasted that state for taking away permitting control from the county conservation districts.

Participating chambers were the Wayne County Chamber of Commerce, Pike County Chamber of Commerce, Hawley Lake Wallempaupack Chamber of Commerce and the Southern Wayne Chamber of Commerce, They are planning another breakfast on October 9th, with state legislators.