At Tuesday night’s Delaware County Council budget hearing, Christine Reuther, with a truly empathetic touch, stated that she “feels bad for people on fixed incomes who are going to see a tax increase.” Though in her assessment, she puts responsibility for the increased tax burden that really “kills” these residents on the school districts — and by extension the Pennsylvania state legislature — sparing her any real culpability.
This should come as no surprise: Reuther made clear that, while she “feels bad” for residents experiencing the burden of rising cost of living, she has no real qualms about increasing spending across various government departments and utilities.
“I don’t feel bad investing in buildings so that they don’t fall down [or] so that you’re not embarrassed when you come in for jury duty [thinking] ‘this is my county government’ – I don’t feel bad about it.”
Good news – residents struggling with grocery expenses can rejoice at the tastefully redesigned interior of the jury room they see the inside of (maybe) once every two years.
Broad + Liberty’s recent article on the tax increase that Delaware County will soon implement was accompanied by a photo of the five council members that will impose this tax. The photo brought to mind the line attributed to Marie Antoinette — “let them eat cake” — which she supposedly said when she was informed that her subjects could not afford bread.
Members of the Delaware County Council should know that many of the people they have sworn to serve cannot afford their tax. Two of the members of council certainty know it, as they hail from communities that are at great risk of financial ruin. Three members — Reuther, Kevin Madden, and Elaine Schaefer — are, like Marie Antoinette, of the elite. They have gone to the finest schools, Harvard, Berkley and Haverford to name a few. They live in the most affluent communities such as Radnor and Haverford. In sum they believe they are our betters and as such they have a perfect right to impose their decisions on the rest of us.
This council has been on a spending spree that rivals the federal government. General government expenditure and other expenses that are funded by revenue from the real estate taxes are up at least 35 percent — $60 million dollars. Council, with a straight face, keeps repeating that the Republicans did not spend enough when they were in power so we have to make up for their lack of spending. To put it slightly differently: the Republicans did not tax our citizens enough, so we will.
Let’s examine that charge. The county decided to deprivatize the county prison. They promised that this would bring, not only humane treatment of our prisoners, but would reduce the cost to the public because the profit incentive would be removed. The prison was originally privatized by a Republican council in the mid 1990’s. That decision saved the taxpayers at least $50 million in the construction and at least $10 million annually for 25 years or over $200 million in operating costs.
A year and a half after deprivatization, seven prisoners have died, including the first ever murder of a prisoner by another prisoner. Another prisoner died alone in a cell of sepsis, lying on the floor clothed only in an adult diaper surrounded by catheters new and used. Both of these cases will in all likelihood bring about multimillion dollar lawsuits.
Council did not cut costs at the prison as they promised. They are spending more, only to do a worse job of running it. The prison budget for next year is $10 million more than it cost when run privately despite reducing the population by one-third. The cost per prisoner is close to doubling. $10 million is equal to a six percent tax increase.
Another major decision was to create a health department. A Republican-led council asked Johns Hopkins University to advise them on the need for a Health Department, after a year long study, they determined the county did not need one. The new Democrat council decided they knew better. It meant nothing to the council that over 50 counties in the Commonwealth had no health department and only six did.
Why did so many not have a health department? Simple: if they didn’t the state had the responsibility to deliver the service. When the state delivered the services the state paid 100 percent. Now, Delaware County taxpayers will have to contribute $8-10 million annually or another five percent tax increase. In fairness, the county health department has done a few things that weren’t done before. Earlier this year you could have applied for ten free condoms and they would have been delivered to your door — a service the county’s senior citizens have been clamoring for.
Every other word out of the Democrat candidates in the 2019 election was “corruption tax,” which they explained as the taxes that were spent by Republicans hiring their friends, especially lawyers. Apparently it was effective and they won that election.
The last year that the Republicans ran the county they indeed did spend $400,000 dollars on outside law firms. No doubt some may have been friends. Fast forward to 2022, the Democrat-controlled council spent $3.2 million on outside law firms. Council will spend $10 million dollars in its first four years of control hiring law firms. I don’t want to bore you with the details but nearly all, if not all, have been contributors to one or more elements of the Democrat Party. Corruption tax indeed!
The county needs to raise taxes by $3 million annually just to pay the Democrats’ corruption tax on steroids. It’s no wonder that lawyers are the only vendors not required to disclose their political contribution history when they receive a county contract.
I could go on about bloated salaries and expansion of departments, but the bottom line is they are spending $60 million more than the tax revenues produce. They have two ways to solve this over the next two years: massive tax increases or (don’t laugh) massive budget cuts.
My bet is that it won’t be spending cuts, at least not in any meaningful way.
After all, our “progressive” elites, in their private clubs and haute social circles, have conjured up all the answers for us regular folks at home. What’s a little extra real estate tax when the county government can save the world? Perhaps council should ask families and seniors living paycheck to paycheck what it means.
After Marie Antoinette made her “let them eat cake” comment the response from the people was “off with their heads”. We certainly are a bit more civilized than France in the 1790’s. Instead of a guillotine, we have the ballot box.
Wally Nunn is the former Chairman of Delaware County Council and a former member of the Delaware County Jail Oversight Board.