On and Off The Mountain/Stephanie Grubert

Here we are at mid-summer and the steamy hot days are with us for another week. Sunday night’s rain and thunder storms were most welcome as my garden is at its peak and it was very dry as I weeded and mulched it on Saturday. I started harvesting squash, beans, peppers, and lettuce bringing some farm fresh produce from the yard to the dinner table. Last week I went to the farm markets. This week I have my own.

Broyan’s in Nescopeck has an abundance of delicious fresh produce when you take a ride out into the country. There is also Pumpkin Hill and Heller Orchards and Country Folk and and Good Time Mini-Golf offer specialty stops out that way. Continue on to Berwick and the Split Rock Blueberry Farm offers pick your own. Now is the time to take it all in.

Hose Company Bazaar

We are also in the midst of the summer bazaar season. Slocum had wonderful weather for their three-day event even though the rains capped off Sunday night. This weekend Mountaintop Hose Company No. One beckons the community to join them for home cooked foods, bouncy houses and games of chance. The legislature did not get the nonprofit gambling rules in order so I don’t think the Big Six wheel will be whirling this year. Most of the laws that the Pennsylvania Legislature considers each session are either to narrow a focus to matter to the general public or unenforceable. The full time legislature should be pared down to two or three months per year. How many new laws do we need? Government is overbearing.

Tax Collection Problem

Fairview Township had a complaint on their agenda last week. Former Zoning Officer Barry Jacob paid his taxes on time and included his phone number to Tax Collector Maxine Macko. Jacob said his tax bill was for $811.84, but he erroneously wrote the check for $811.48, a difference of 46 cents. He said he got a letter on July 1, one day after the deadline, advising him his check was incorrect and he would have to pays a 10% late penalty. Jacob told supervisors he contacted the county treasurer’s office and a representative told him Macko should have accepted the payment. The township supervisors were sympathetic to Jacob and unanimously voted to accept his tax payment check at face value. Jacob pointed out that when the county was considering taking over tax collection, municipal tax collectors claimed they could offer taxpayers more individual service. “This is no way to serve a taxpayer,” Jacob remarked.

Tax collectors throughout Luzerne County have been in trouble from time to time. Theft and sloppy bookkeeping have been documented and prosecuted.

The bottom line is that elected tax collectors don’t need any financial credentials or experience when they take the job. In Fairview Maxine Macko failed to use common sense in assessing an $81 penalty for a taxpayer who transposed the cents on his tax payment check causing a 46-cent shortage. Tax collection reform is needed now.

Rice Legal Fees

Rice Township paid legal invoices for April and May totaling $8,233.92 for services to Elliot, Greenleaf and Dean. Solicitor Jack Dean said $5700 of the bill was to comply with a Right To Know request for analyzing the township’s cell phone bills including the phone given to Supervisor Miller Stella in 2010 after he took office. Stella was a defendant in a defamation and whistle blower lawsuit filed against him and a number of other Rice Township elected and appointed officials by former secretary-treasurer Marcia Thomas in March 2011. Thomas had not been reappointed to the position she had held for twenty years in January 2011. The Thomas case was settled in April of 2014 and after three years of litigation there was plenty of money spent on both sides of the table for legal fees.

Rockman had a right to file for the information, but I have to ask as to what end? Stella’s defense was paid for by the township and also through a liability insurance claim. The case is over. Enough is enough.

Defense costs, especially if there is an insurance claim in the mix, often accelerate with numerous depositions, motions and if the case goes to trial a jury award. Settlements also jack up the costs.

Last week at the Rice meeting Stella expressed surprise that the township’s liability insurance premium through the Pennsylvania Intergovernmental Risk Management Association was going from $29,000 to $55,410, an increase of 87%. Stella said the insurance company told him that the Rice rates were not going up. After three years of endless litigation and stalling over the Thomas lawsuit, the real winners were the lawyers.

When you bang up your car or have a property claim you are on a new level of involvement with your insurance company. Rice Township is no different. Frankly I am surprised the premium wasn’t higher.

Train Memories

The Steam Train Excursion riders were still excited about their experience last week, days after they completed their run. I know I thought about it a lot. On Sunday we stopped in White Haven at Woods Ice Cream after golf at Mountain Laurel with our six-year-old granddaughter Maggie Dicus. Maggie pointed out the area of the tracks to her grandfather and said she saw Woods as we passed by through town. I did love seeing some familiar landmarks from the train. The tracks have been in use for more than a hundred years and we pass over them regularly. There is a story “on the other side of the tracks” in every town in America. I know the Mountaintop Rotary Club is happy to have completed their commitment. On to Taste of the Mountain in the fall.