LAWRENCE COUNTY Panel mulls options for new government
The study group agreed a part-time, seven-member county council should replace the commissioners.
By LAURE CIOFFI
VINDICATOR NEW CASTLE BUREAU
NEW CASTLE, Pa. -- The commission members studying Lawrence County's form of government agree there should be change, but they can't agree on what type of new government is needed.
The group deadlocked on a motion proposing that the commission narrow its choices down to one of the county council forms of government. That motion would have eliminated any opportunity to write a home rule charter for the county.
Commission members Gale Measel, D. John Razzano, Helen Jackson and Gary Clark said they did not want to eliminate the home rule option.
Tom Shumaker, Janet Verone, Beth Veterano and Wendell Wagner voted in favor of narrowing the choices to a county council. Member Amy Lamb was not present at Tuesday's meeting.
The options include replacing the current three member board of commissioners with a county council with either an elected executive or appointed professional manager. Writing a home rule charter would allow the commission to create a completely new form of government.
Although they could not agree on a form of government, commission members were able to agree on some issues:
UThe county controller should be an elected office regardless of the form of government chosen.
"It is hard for me to understand how the public can have total confidence in a county controller who is appointed by the people who created the books," Shumaker said when explaining his decision.
UThere should be a seven-member county council with five elected by district and two members elected at large. The salary will be set at $2,500 per year.
Members said they believe this will allow for equal representation throughout the county. Districts will be divided by population.
The study group decided to delay voting on whether other row officers would be appointed or elected.
An accounting firm hired by the commission gave a financial breakdown of the two county council forms with most of the row offices being appointed with a reduced salary or eliminated.
Those row officers affected will be sent a copy of that report and asked for a written reply to justify why those changes should not be made and if the information about their current office finances is correct.
The only row officer not affected is the district attorney, who must always be elected.
The current system costs about $643,000 per year for salaries and benefits for row officers, said Jennifer Herr of Carbis Walker, the Neshannock Township accounting firm that did the analysis.
Under a proposed council-manager government, that cost would drop to $334,000.
Changes would include a seven member, part-time county council, hiring a county manager and eliminating the elected treasurer and sheriff. It would also reduce the coroner's salary from $36,620 to $24,000 and drop the number of deputy coroners from four to one.
The elected prothonotary and register of wills-recorder of deeds would also become appointed jobs, and jury commissioners would be eliminated.
The other option that includes an elected county executive and a council would cost $388,000, according to Herr's report.
The only change from the other council form would be the addition of an elected county executive making $60,000 per year and a manager making $55,000 per year.
Commission members will have until Sept. 6 to decide on a government structure and write a report if they agree on one of the county council options. If the commission decides to write a home rule charter, it will be given another nine months to work.
The voters will ultimately decide by referendum if a new structure is implemented.
The commission members also agreed to hire a solicitor. They tentatively agreed to contact Atty. Jack Seltzer and discuss fees and his availability.
The commission's next meeting is set for 4:15 p.m. Tuesday at the Lawrence County Government Center.