5-31-2005 Lonesome Redneck Mark

According to today’s Times Leader, Just 37 percent of Northeastern Pennsylvania poll respondents said they trust local politicians to do what’s right always, or most of the time.

Now, if some localized news outfit were to poll the politicos living on the public dole in Northeastern Pennsylvania , I imagine that approximately 97 percent of those poll respondents would treat us to some hollow platitudes about how hard they are working for us and little else. 3 percent would probably portend to be deeply concerned that only 37 of the hoi polloi trust them, but they’d be lying through their choppers for the most part. The fact is, the 37 percent that trust those politicos are the 37 that make up the “likely voters” category sure to vote every chance they get. The same 37 percent that will vote with reckless abandon--for the entrenched incumbents. And the entrenched folks fear not for their political future in a one-party county, and so it goes.

The politicos, the paid pundits and the pajama pundits rail against the apathy that pervades the mindset of the average ditch digger, but, again, they really don’t mean it a word of it, save the much rowdier pajama crowd. Actually, it goes without saying that our local politicos are fine-and-dandy with the apathetic status quo as they amass higher salaries and inch towards enough years of service paid in to finally qualify for retirement benefits and what have you.

And then we have the taxpayer activists…er, the on-the-outside-looking-in local republicans. Oh, and those Greenies hugging the trees and smoking the grass. Generally, these folks have about as much a chance of getting themselves elected to something (ANYTHING!!! PLEASE!!!) as I have of getting naked and nasty with some drug-crazed femme fatale from Hollywood. In all likelihood, most of these vocationally-challenged pretenders to the throne would have great difficulty trying to refill a condom dispenser in the men’s room at the local bowling alley. And they too whine on cue about the apathetic voters as if said apathy is the reason for their being locked out of the taxpayer provided bottomless cookie jar. What they fail to realize is that a laundry list of complaints rained down upon the unwashed masses does not amount to an attractive agenda. Vote for me, because the lot of them suck?

As of this paragraph, I’m probably coming off as feeling a bit pessimistic. Trust me, I am. No, I haven’t forgotten about the buildings being erected and the pricey projects yet to come. Theaters, rebuild riverfronts, new upscale homes and other urban renewal trinkets sound really, really good to me. And they are sure to reverse Wilkes-Barre’s flailing fortunes--for a while, anyway. After a wave of progress finally comes to town and the city’s coffers again fill up to some minor degree, I fear that that is right where the forward-thinking and the progressiveness will come to an abrupt halt. We’ve got plenty of troubling financial issues to be dealt with, but I doubt that the current crop of elected folks have the political will nor a burning desire to address any of them.

Let’s toss a few out here, shall we?

From the Times Leader:

Posted on Wed, May. 25, 2005 

For one officer, the $600,000 question

Retiring at right time is W-B’s name of game

By LANE FILLER lfiller@leader.net

WILKES-BARRE – What a difference a year makes. For Michael Kasper and the Wilkes-Barre Police Pension Fund, that difference could add up to more than $600,000.

Had Sgt. Kasper retired in March 2004, he would have received an annual pension benefit of about $44,500.

Instead, he retired in March 2005 and will get $66,170 per year.

So if Kasper, 55, lives 10 more years, his last year on the force will have earned him an extra $216,700. That figure jumps to $433,400 over 20 years, and $650,100 over 30 years.

But had Kasper stuck around a week, a month or a year past March 12, his pension would almost certainly have plummeted.

That’s because officers’ pensions are calculated on the last 12 months of earnings. Not their highest year, or the average of their three highest years. Just the final year. And Kasper earned nearly twice his base pay in his final year, picking up lots of overtime to help cover the shifts of fellow sergeants John Curham and Ken Lukasavage, who were out on disability.

Union rules governing overtime are complex, but the upshot is that Kasper, with 30 years of seniority, had first crack at the overtime.

He picked up enough extra shifts to swell his base pay of about $54,500 to just over $100,000.

When Curham and Lukasavage returned in March of this year, Kasper simply had to retire.

“I loved the job and I miss it, and I’ve applied for work at other police departments, particularly on the West Side,” Kasper said. “I’ve got a lot of good years left in me, but financially there was no way I could stay on the force.”

“It’s not uncommon for police officers to retire after they have a good year,” said Christine Jensen, the city’s human resources director. “After Agnes, some of those guys had made so much money that it was the same thing, they absolutely had to take retirement.”

According to Jensen, rules on how the pension is operated and overtime allocated are set in stone as a result of union negotiations and often, arbitration.

The city operates five pension funds, each with different rules.

Jensen, who is a participant in the non-uniformed fund, will eventually have her pension figured on the average pay of her two highest earning years.

Kasper retired with more than 30 years service, and will receive 65 percent of his final year’s pay.

He does not, however, qualify for Social Security for his time as a city police officer, nor does he qualify for Medicare, since he gets lifetime health benefits from the city, Jensen said.

“The city had no choice in any of this, and really, I don’t think Mr. Kasper did either,” Jensen said. “You’d pretty much have to be crazy not to retire in that case.” Jensen said some officers are very aware of how the system works; others pay less attention.

“I see guys that pick a certain date to retire because they worked an overtime shift 51 weeks before and they don’t want it to drop off their pension, but others don’t keep up with it that much,” Jensen said.

Now, I ask you, does the city really have any long-term future to speak of with that sort of monkey business passing as policy? Nothing against the guy in question, but this amounts to nothing more than a fleecing of the taxpayers. And the way I hear it, this goes on all the time. Again, I have nothing against any unionized employee of this city making as much money as he can under the existing rules that obviously need to be trashed in favor of a dose of fiscal reality circa 2005. But unless somebody; a mayor, an emboldened council, a governor, the union, the arbitrators, or perhaps Gort himself do something about this financially destructive practice, the city faces bankruptcy someday. Sorry, but there it is.

A city employee with a base pay of $54,500 ups and retires with a yearly pension of $66,170? Can you say, “Belly up?” That’s where this whole shebang is headed, kiddies.

And then there’s this tawdry business whereby part-time council folk (gender neutral, politically correct wienie speech) can qualify for retirement benefits after “serving” on council for twenty years. I’ll be the first one to state for the record that a council position is not really a part-time position, but let’s be serious here. If being a council thingy is deemed to be like work…like a real job, then I can balance a Nash Rambler on the head of an embroidery needle stolen from a church basement rummage sale. If that’s work, then my average work week if Herculean by direct comparison. And so was my job before this one. And my job before that. And my job before that. Any job that requires little more than a booster club seat cushion a few hours a month, and a talent for listening to and dismissing complaints out of hand is not a job that should command much of anything in benefits, retirement related or otherwise.

Now, if a given council at any given time happened to be wholeheartedly concerned about the city’s long-term financial health, they’d immediately grandfather their own taxpayer provided goodies and then end that dreadful and shameful practice forever more. Well, that’s what a fiscally responsible council would do provided that they were serving in a parallel universe. Conversely, to do otherwise suggests that a given seated council cares not about the long range financial picture. And why the hell should they? We, the apathetic myrmidons demand nothing more from them than a few other things we can no longer afford. And, remarkably, right on cue, some of them decide to fight for the things we can least afford. And we love them for that and we vow to perpetuate their long march towards that retirement brass ring. They rarely deliver, but they did “fight” for us.

God, we’re a bunch of dumb chucks who have gotten exactly what we deserved all along. Namely, a flailing community with oodles and oodles of long-term debts still to be paid. A big chunk of which are retirement benefits. If some council person wants to impress me beyond belief, they’ll put the grandfathering of council’s benefits on the agenda. Needless to say, I do not expect to be impressed anytime soon. And so it goes. The debt continues to pile up. Ho hum. Who cares? Not the elected.

Think about it. We could hire two new cops for the $66,170 it takes to pay one ex-cop’s retirement salary. If the current practices continue as is for too much longer, there will come a point when the retirement costs will outweigh the current payroll. Then again, maybe we’ve already arrived at that point. I don’t know. Why can’t a given mayor hire a slew of new cops and reclaim our streets once and for all? Got me? Ask your favorite council honcho. Or try asking some of those union representatives. I’d bet you’d be better served by asking your Darth Vader talking action figure. Because, as near as I can tell, nobody really gives a flying f>ck. Screw it. Float another bond. Refinance the debt, or something. Privatize the garbage collections and give me my growing piece of the shrinking taxpayer pie.

Then again, there is that Act 47 thing that still looms out there just over the culm-dotted horizon. Maybe that’s just what this debt-laden city needs. A massive jolt of mandated fiscal sanity.

Priority #1: Disband all contracts, downsize immediately and pay off debts.

Priority #2: All other priorities are rescinded.

That thought should send a few shivers down a few weak spines. Not mine. Yours, perhaps.

With 50% of our hard-earned incomes confiscated from us at the point of a gun if need be, are we really getting our monies worth? Are we?

When what we really need is another platoon of cops, but the popular uprising concerns a lean-to of a broken firehouse we can ill afford to fix, am I supposed to be upbeat about our eventual chances in a town populated by dimwits fixated on the short-term?

While our school district remains little more than a bottomless money pit that produces illiterate know-it-alls that can’t start a single sentence without saying, “I was like…,” should I be enthused about our chances much past the next administration?

We raised the occupational privilege tax by 2 gazillion percent, and then turned around and forgave some taxes on a building that took an immediate friggin’ swan dive into it‘s own basement. Will the owners of that unkempt dump be reimbursing the city for the $300,000 in demolition fees it paid out?

Should I be impressed by any of this? Should I be feeling optimistic knowing that there are those who are perfectly content with the troubling status quo that can only lead us to ruin? Or should I be looking to buy a second-hand double-wide in Satan’s Tit, Arkansas?

That might be the ticket. I’m not ambitious. I’d be just fine with getting’ a little tipsy out back of the tool shed and shootin’ buckshot at any of those two-foot-long moskeeters brazen enough to git on after my trusty runt of a mutt. I could still call my cuzzin and hear of the latest moral, ethical and financial depravities in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. But by being so far, far removed from it all, I reckon it won’t bother near as much. Yeah. That’d work. You can’t beat the govmint, ‘cause even the govmint don’t care. So why bother? Let ‘em wreck whatever they want.

If I dunno, I figure I won’t care near as much. And I’ll be plum happy as a pig in sh*t with my little plot on the backside of Hooper’s swamp. I’ll drink much. I’ll read just as much. And I’ll tell them dam flammin’ pigs to move on over and make some room for me.

Opal!!! You hot ‘lil bitch!!!

Get me a goll danged beer!!!

From the Times Leader

Posted on Sat, May. 28, 2005

Watershed coalition sponsors RiverFest 2005

The Wyoming Valley Watershed Coalition is sponsoring RiverFest 2005 on June 4. The daylong event will include morning and afternoon canoe and kayak trips on the Susquehanna River, a bike trek from Frances Slocum State Park in Kingston Township to the Kirby Park area, and festivals at Nesbitt Park in Wilkes-Barre and Canal Park in West Nanticoke.

Interested participants should register for either or both of the canoe/kayak trips by Tuesday. Call 718-6507 or see www.wvwc.org for more information.

Pine Ridge

Pine Ridge