One of the county’s biggest assets, Sunnyview Nursing and Rehabilitation Center was eventually sold, but recent actions by Butler County Commissioners have raised eyebrows as well as serious fiscal concerns.
A big question remains: Was Sunnyview sold to benefit county employees or the taxpayers who paid for the facility?
Unfortunately, county residents will probably be left out in the cold with ever-increasing tax bills while having no voice in county government.
Last year, as an obvious preemptive strike, public comment time on any subject was slashed in half. Now, that time set aside for the public has been taken over by county employees, including one of the commissioners.
So, where are the Sunnyview proceeds of $20.4 million going?
As the commissioners discussed the matter on April 2, their meeting deteriorated into a circus sideshow rather than an actual public meeting, including namecalling and accusations.
Commissioners Bill McCarrier and Dale Pinkerton merely want to write a big check to the county’s pension fund, thus padding it needlessly and recklessly, and putting the lion’s share of the Sunnyview windfall into the stock market. That could be risky, as two other Pennsylvania counties learned with terrible losses.
Throughout the county’s government center, rumors are spreading wildly about lower employee contributions to the pension fund, or even worse, an outright pension grab following the anticipated actions.
At the same meeting, Commissioner Jim Eckstein proclaimed that the county has been on a “spending spree” and has already spent the nearly $1 million the county planned to save annually, from the Sunnyview sale, the amount of “labor support” used to subsidize it, by numerous county departments.
Now, there’s silence on the issue. Will there be county staff layoffs? None are planned; in fact, since January, nine county employees have already been hired, with benefits and retirement, and this “hiring frenzy” is just beginning.
For example, last year, an employee was hired on a six-month basis because of a federal grant; after it ran out, the position should have ended, but the personnel director just ignored it and continued paying the employee in question a $38,000 annual salary; and yes, the commissioners now decided to just make that job permanent, with a luxurious county benefit package. That’s no way to run a business!
Furthermore, the commissioners are planning to spend approximately $13 million on the new office annex, but how do they plan to pay for it?
Actually, they’re planning to finance it with a loan and thus put future generations of county taxpayers deeper into debt. At the last meeting, Itzi Meztli recommended that the county pay cash, or “an asset for an asset.” His suggestion could save millions in a loan’s up-front costs, as well as its annual interest on the long run.
However, the public was told that the county’s “bond counsel” will review it and make a recommendation. Who’s kidding who here?
In short, whereas the private sector has been delaying wage raises, instituting hiring freezes, and at times, even implementing actual layoffs, the county goes about doing business as usual —wasting tax dollars.
Thus, the Sunnyview windfall is being viewed by many as one big piņata, with various departments vying for some “cash candy” if it’s poked hard enough.
Steven Hively Cranberry Township