Ever since Boots Hetherington was appointed as a Schuylkill County Commissioner, he’s promised transparency. Rarely has he kept his promise.
And the latest example of this is the secrecy surrounding the proposed 2022 budget.
The Commissioners passed this proposed budget last Wednesday. County Finance Director Paul Buber introduced the budget and then delivered a statement about what’s apparently in it. What’s not in it, according to Buber, is a property tax increase.
That’s all well and good, but people deserve more than just someone’s word on it, especially when it comes from the government … ESPECIALLY when it comes from this government.
But if you want to see it, you’re going to need to take time out of your busy day – maybe even call off work – to do so.
The budget is available to view at the Commissioners office at the Courthouse. By law, it must be available for public inspection for 30 days prior to its final passage next month.
It’s about 120 pages long though, so unless you’ve got time to burn, visiting the Courthouse to see it is rather pointless. For working people – those most likely to be fueling the spending plan with their tax money – it’s practically impossible.
Now, you’re probably wondering to yourself, “Self, why don’t they just convert the budget document into a PDF and post it on the County website?”
At the very least, it could be made available to anyone who emailed the County and asked for a copy of it.
Well, if Schuylkill County government did that, you’d almost say they’re being transparent. It’d at least be a singular transparent act.
Apparently, that’s not how the County wants to handle this.
Schuylkill County Misses Transparency Layup by Hiding Proposed 2022 Budget
Last week, after the proposed budget was passed, we were interested in seeing what’s in it.
After last year’s financial debacle involving secretive CARES Act spending and accounting … and the fact that the County hasn’t said one word about how it’s planning to spend more than $13 million it got from the American Rescue Plan at the beginning of 2021 … and the fact that the County doesn’t release any pertinent financial information on a regular basis, if at all … and the fact that when it does release any financial information, it provides 0 context to support it … and because it’s anyone’s right to see this proposed budget so that they can make comments on it before it’s passed, we wanted to see a copy of it.
In the amount of time it took you to read that last paragraph, the county could have sent you your own copy of the proposed 2022 budget, maybe even twice.
Rather than that painfully easy act of transparency, the County made us and will make you fill out a Right to Know form. A Right to Know form to get a copy of a document that’s supposed to be on public view for a month? It sounded ludicrous right away but we checked with nearby Carbon County to see if they had a similar policy.
The last time we compared Schuylkill and Carbon counties in terms of government function, we really triggered folks at the Courthouse in Pottsville.
To our latest question, Commissioner Chris Lukasevich told us there’s no way Carbon County would make someone fill out a Right to Know form to see its proposed budget. In fact, he said, the proposed budget was on the county website within 3 hours of it being approved. And it’s very visible on the homepage.
By the way, Carbon County also has a navigation menu item dedicated to Public Records and also on the homepage is a clear, visible area dedicated to the Right to Know Act and access to a blank Right to Know form in several formats.
Right to Know Easter Egg Hunt
Since we’re not in Carbon County, we decided to go through the completely unnecessary process of filling out a Right to Know form to get a copy of Schuylkill County’s proposed 2022 budget.
Filling out a Right to Know form to get a copy of the proposed budget takes about a half-hour. You’ll need a tool that allows you to fill in a PDF. And if you’re not the most tech savvy, you’ll need someone to explain what that even means. It’s either that or you’ll have to print out the form, fill it in by hand and then either deliver it to the Courthouse or send it in the mail.
Finding said Right to Know form on the County website is another matter. It’s definitely not available through a link on the site’s homepage. We couldn’t even find a menu item dedicated to Right to Know or Open Records.
Once your RTK form is received at the Courthouse, no fewer than 2 people will handle the request. That’s at least 2 people, essentially on your dime, spending part of their workday to process your RTK form. We’d love to know if the County accounts for this in its proposed budget.
Of course, this could all be avoided if Schuylkill County just posted the proposed 2022 budget on its website.