On Wednesday, Schuylkill County Commissioners held off hiring one consulting firm but agreed to hire another.
The reason given earlier this week for paying Allen-Goodman & Associates $5,000 a month was to help find money at the state and federal government levels to help pay for several “major” projects the Commissioners have lined up for now and in the future.
Now, if those names “Allen” and “Goodman” sound familiar, they should. The firm hired consists, namely, of former State Reps. Bob Allen (125th District) and Neal Goodman (123rd District).
Allen served in the State House from 1989 until 2006. Goodman just left the House after representing the 123rd since 2003.
For that $5,000 a month ($60,000 for the term of the one-year contract), the former politicians turned “business consultants” are tasked with securing funds for these projects that were vaguely referenced in view of the public this week. According to a report from the RepublicanHerald, those projects apparently consist of improvements at the Schuylkill County Airport, outside Minersville, and dredging Sweet Arrow Lake, outside Pine Grove.
“There’s some major projects faced by our county coming up in the near future and distant future. These are not normal year-to-year projects,” Commissioners Chairman Boots Hetherington said Wednesday.
Commissioner Gary Hess, who voted to approve this contract, too, said these are “large projects put on hold because of not having the proper funding.”
And his reasoning for supporting the measure was to avoid “putting it on the backs of citizens” to pay for these projects. But don’t worry, these projects will “help Schuylkill County move forward into the future,” Hess said.
Schuylkill Commissioners Hiring Former Local Politicians as Consultants
There are several major issues to unpack from this contract deal with Allen and Goodman:
How Many Politicians Does it Take … ?
So, Schuylkill County has 3 Commissioners. They’re paid a decent salary, especially relative to the area. We also have 3 elected officials in the State House of Representatives, Tim Twardzik, Joe Kerwin, and Jerry Knowles.
And we’ve got State Sen. Dave Argall, a high-ranking member of that body.
That’s 7 local politicians, most with Schuylkill County roots, in total, actively on the job allegedly working for their constituents.
If they can’t find the money for these alleged projects, what good is bringing on 2 more? Is there a secret tree these guys can shake that others can’t?
Too Many Consultants
This hire on Wednesday was supposed to be the second move to bring on consultants to help the people we elected. The other, to hire the company that allegedly OK’d all the county’s CARES Act spending, was put on hold because Commissioner George Halcovage was absent on Wednesday, and Hess doesn’t approve of that move, specifically.
So, what’s the point of electing Commissioners if they need to lean on consultants to make bigger decisions and do some of the dirty work, like searching for funds for their pet projects or the County’s needs? Maybe we should elect the consultants, too.
It seems the size of county government is growing at rates we can’t afford. If the dredging of Sweet Arrow Lake is so necessary, why aren’t the Commissioners demanding this be worked into the budget on an annual basis?
And if it’s so necessary, why did they just pass a $6 million bond to pay for a project they believe, without evidence, will bring 5G to more county residents sometime “down the road”? Wouldn’t it make sense to use that $6 million to pay for these projects they deem necessary?
As far as the airport goes, it’s hard to understand Boots’ recent fascination with that place. Yes, the airport is a necessary piece of infrastructure to attract businesses that hire. But in 2020, the airport couldn’t make 2 loan payments to the county for work that’s previously been done. Now, we’re talking about a major project there?
Where was this sort of ambition in 2020 when it came to helping small businesses in Schuylkill County? The Commissioners waited until the very last minute to get grants to struggling businesses but waste no time in funding their own projects.
The Backs of Citizens
The back of the average Schuylkill County citizen hurts right now. Chances are they live in a municipality or school district that seemingly raises property taxes every year or every other year. The County didn’t raise its tax rate for 2021 but that’s only a matter of time until the rate goes up again.
Our backs can’t take any more without getting something in return.
To suggest that hiring a consulting firm of political insiders at $5,000 a month isn’t putting something more on the backs of citizens is alarming. First, we’re paying for this contract. So, whatever money Allen and Goodman might find, we’re already 60-grand in the hole.
Secondly, unless there’s a free money treasure chest hidden in Harrisburg or Washington, any money they do find didn’t get there magically. Most grant money is funded by taxpayers so in one way, shape or form, we’re putting these projects on our back.
It’s time these Commissioners start taking the lead on issues rather than defer to consultants. We can’t afford it and we can’t afford to elect politicians who aren’t ready to get their hands a little dirty. Our backs are killing us.