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Article published December 31, 2012
Opt for Home Rule
David Kerr Lancaster Township
All three Butler County commissioners voted for a one-mill property tax increase for 2013. All three want to build or acquire additional office space, and all three would build our financial house on a foundation of sand. Two revenue-producing components in all of their plans are unreliable. The gas impact fees are a pittance when compared with what the gas industry pays in other states, and we are trying to run a for-profit prison when the entire country is examining early prisoner-release programs. Commissioner Jim Eckstein was euphoric and celebratory in proclaiming how lucky we are that the gas industry still is drilling in the county. I wonder how lucky the residents of the Woodlands feel. How fortuitous are the residents of Center Township who are finding brown water running from their taps? How lucky will the residents of Lancaster Township be when their groundwater too is polluted by the gas industry? Many county residents (myself included) already have shouldered increased school taxes. In recent weeks, we’ve been told about some of the negative tax impacts of the “fiscal cliff” impasse. Now the county commissioners have approved a tax increase. The county needs to go on an austerity budget that protects what we have in human services, public safety and physical property. Austerity would mean that everything would be on the table, and I would suggest that we begin by looking at nonunion salaries followed by a thorough evaluation of nonunion health care benefits. The commissioners need to shelve their pet projects and chart a course that takes the county to Home Rule as quickly as possible. With Home Rule, we would be able to create our own menu of new taxes that would enable us to take this county forward. We could look at taxes on gas extraction that would be at the same level as other states’. We could look at a tax on industrial water pollution. We could look at a county income tax that would be applicable to incomes in excess of $250,000. I am not in favor of an increase in the sales tax, but we could follow Allegheny County’s lead and use Home Rule to accomplish it. We need more creativity and fewer theatrics from our commissioners. Perhaps a 20 percent reduction in their salaries, accompanied by a 10 percent reduction in staff salaries, would be motivational.