2-5-2004 The 2004 Budget: 2 plus 2 actually equals 4 for once

How do you make holy water holy?

Boil the hell out of it.

Remember this days-old Times Leader story about the piles of cat poop inside of 49 Davis Place that led to the city having to condemn the joint? Poop story Well, guess who's going in there to clean-out and exterminate the entire place? Yepper. That person would be none other than me. Oh joy! We weren't subjected to round after round of paper-scissors-rock and lost to land this assignment. My sidekick and I volunteered. Ya' can't spin war stories for folks without having gone into battle first. It sounds as if it'll be one of those days where I'll skip lunch altogether.

I attended the council get together tonight for two reasons. I wanted to see Tom Leighton's budget presentation which was said to include many pictures of the city. And since the general public would be allowed to address the big elected guns, I just had to hear this for myself. It was funny to hear Mason Gribble from Davis Place filling council's ears about the ongoing problem down there. I almost wanted to whistle extremely loudly and then say to Mr. Gribble: "Got cat sh*t up the freakin' whazoo, champ? Then talk to me." Not exactly a macho Clint Eastwood moment, but you're free to join us in that 1,000 square foot over-flowing litter box.

I have to share this with you. As many of you know, before the dreadful McG years, I paid scant, if any attention to anything emanating from City Hall. Thanks to McG and his Tragical History Tour, I suddenly became very interested in how this city was being governed and missed very little of what was going on at City Hall from there on out. While watching Leighton's presentation tonight and listening to his opinion of where we've been and where he's hoping to take us, it suddenly dawned on me that this was the first time I was seeing a professional Mayor in action in our beloved city. Ya' wanna know what? It's a very refreshing change of pace.

I'm sure he's got a few warts there somewhere. He might even make an error or two along the road to progress. Who knows? Maybe his Irish temper will cause him to blow a fuse now and again. For all I know, he might even be a lowly Eagles fan. Hell! He might even sit home at night playing Captain & Tennile songs on his miniature harpischord. But he looks and acts and professional. He acted very courteously while fielding a few tough, if not accusatory questions from the public. Rather than going off half-cocked as we're so used to seeing our former mayor do, he pauses at times while speaking and searches for the right words. Basically, rather than having a mayor who is a walking, talking, and embarrassing liability, our mayor is now one of our biggest assets as we reach out for bigger and better things for Wilkes-Barre. I could get used to this.

Wilkes-Barre: The widescreen version

He announced tonight that City Hall needs a new boiler and claimed it would cost us 325. I'm assuming that 325 meant $325,000 and I'm wondering when we might catch a freakin' break already. Practically every single thing the city owns has been neglected for eight years and is in some advanced stage of dis-repair, but we sure as heck don't need anymore expensive surprises.

Leighton's presentation was impressive and it's hard to argue with the obvious fact that Wilkes-Barre needs revenue and it needs it now, if we're going to stave off Act 47 status. You read the figures already. $99 in tax increases per year per household, which was broken down to $1.92 per week per household. $1.92 a week. Not exactly a stifling tax increase no matter which way you hold it to the light. Yet, right on cue, there were some of the usual suspects posing as defenders of the taxpayers whining about folks on fixed incomes not being able to bear the burden of $1.92 per week. How can these folks be expected to do without eight of their precious Daily Number tickets each and every month? I shouldn't be hacking on seniors, but the arguments coming from the usual publicity whores was predictible, if not completely laughable.

We need more cops. We need our fire department and paramedics. We need our curbside pick-ups. We need a rebuilt downtown. We need a theater. We need to cut the grass and trim the weeds in a timely matter, BUT... $1.92 per week is just too much of a sacrifice for the residents. In the future, the folks wishing to address council should be forced to pass an IQ test before being allowed to do so. There's no greater torture than meetings that drag on much longer than they need to only because a couple of people are offering time-consuming and mostly unenlightened commentary.

Christine Katsock made her usual speech. Some other lady named Katsock from the Wilkes-Barre Taxpayers Association made an equally inept speech. Walter was AWOL, so his trusty sidekick, Claire Werts, rambled on incessantly and had more questions than answers. She had to be thrilled when a member of the local media pulled her aside to comment further. I was happy when Tom Leighton was explaining the decision to hire the financial consultant types and ended with a semi-stern: "I made that decision." I looked at Larry and whispered: "BANG!" That's right, folks. He is the new boss and in my mind, if you're confident in the decision you made after exhaustive deliberation, by all means, stand by it.

I had to crack up very visibly when the proposed raises for our two solicitors came under heavy criticism from a member of the hoi polloi. $40,000? That's too much? If we need astute legal advice, $40,000 is too much for the taxpayers to bear? Is everyone clueless around here? What's a better option? Laying the two of them off and calling Helpline whenever we need a legal opinion? Or how about consulting with Charlie Weiss whenever the city faces some sticky legal issue? He knows everything. Go ask him. And it wouldn't cost us much more than the cost of a couple of coffees. We can't pay an extra $1.92 a week, but we want attorneys to work for food stamps and some free Cracker Jacks?. You tell me, man. I'm still relatively new at all of this.

The last resident to address council was Joe Matteo and other than a bit of desk pounding, he kept the volume down for once. He was his usual passionate self, but without the ever-increasing decible assault. He turned around to the gallery and started asking if folks complained when practically everything they consume eventually raises in price? There was one boob who kept yelling an affirmative response to each and every product and service that Joe asked about, but it takes all kinds to run an asylum. To make a longer story short, his point was that if we really want to see Wilkes-Barre zoom along again and maybe even zoom to new heights-we're gonna have to poney up a few francs. Hoor-ah! Finally, a realist had ascended to the Microphone of Destiny. Whoopsy daisy! How the hell did this guy get in here with so many taxpayer watchdog crazies jockeying for some quick press?

Turn on the bubble machine

I gotta cut this stuff short. I'm friggin' beat. I was up at the crack of dawn and off to our new Chuck E. Cheese. No, it's not open for business yet, but it will be soon enough.

The presentation was impressive tonight. You don't need to take my word for it though. The next time some important business is on the agenda, get your silly self down there.

Take an unusually long look at this site. Vietnam Veterans against John Kerry