(Editor's note: The author of this letter was a candidate for Somerset County commissioner in 2011. He approved sending his letter to Somerset County officials for comment. Two responses follow.)
With a thunderous roar like the sound of God speaking to Moses in the movie the Ten Commandments the declaration was arrogantly proclaimed: "Somerset County is in great shape financially." My rebuttal trumped the commissioner's declaration: The numbers speak perfect English, no interrupter needed. Somerset County's debt numbers are an annoying, accurate representation of reality, but hard to argue with.
A celebrated deception replicating the Garden of Eden was announced via the Daily American. On June 7, a front page headline stated a bond refinancing savings was proclaimed. The Somerset County solicitor announced the county saved an immense $62,000. The truth was withheld from the taxpayers; actually an additional $58,000 was borrowed, verified by PNC bank bond department. The unholy trio was caught, confessing their sin to the reporter.
If the county was so rich in revenue why did we refinance to borrow a meager $58,000? A few months earlier the commissioners had taken $2.4 million from the county taxpayers in the form of a tax hike. An additional $1.6 million moved from our savings account to balance the yearly budget, duplicated this year. Do the actions of false prophets secure your feelings that no new tax hikes will follow and your county is in such great shape financially ?
After much thought, with no apparent answer, I felt a nap was in order. During the deep slumber, many dreams and visions appeared. I saw campaign contributions and vacations. The third vision was frightening enough to wake me, I saw the Somerset General Authority in a weakened, famine state, like the recent horses found starving on the Meyersdale farm, in much need of a vet.
Panicked, I arose to scan the June 7 declaration one final time. The interpretation overcame me like God's Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost. Other than the bank, who always handsomely profits from a bond refinancing? Perhaps the attorneys?
It is what you do in secret that defines you. What is the cost of a clear conscience?
Thank you for the opportunity to reply to Mr. Henry's criticism of the General Authority's efforts to take advantage of favorable conditions in the bond market to refinance its Series of 2006 bonds.
The Somerset County Board of Commissioners and the Somerset County General Authority monitor their financial position constantly and are always alert for ways in which the taxpayers' monies can be saved or maximized.
Mr. Henry claims that a "celebrated deception" took place in June of 2011 when the authority identified an opportunity to reduce its interest costs on certain outstanding indebtedness from 3.88 percent to 2.63 percent, a reduction which resulted in a net "cash in hand" benefit to the Authority by $60,744, comprised of $58,813 at closing, and $1,931 of debt service savings, after all costs and expenses.
The authority members determined that public duty required us to take advantage of such an opportunity and that to continue to "give away" more than $60,000 of taxpayers' money in the form of higher than necessary interest expenses would be an irresponsible waste of public funds.
Mr. Henry is entitled to his own opinion but not entitled to his own facts.
Thank you for the opportunity to clarify these misrepresentations.
Dan Rullo, solicitor, on behalf of the Somerset County General Authority
Responds to Henry
I am writing in response to the letter from Mr. Jeff Henry concerning several debt-related issues. Since I am no longer employed as the county fiscal analyst, I can do so without the necessity of being politically correct.
Once you remove the rhetoric from his letter, there remains little substance. Mr. Henry either doesn't understand or intentionally blurs the distinction between the County of Somerset and the Somerset County General Authority (SCGA). The specific bond issue he refers to was a refunding issue approved by the SCGA. He implies that the refinancing was done for the purpose of borrowing an additional $58,000; again, Mr. Henry either doesn't understand municipal borrowings or intentionally distorts the facts. The sole purpose of the refinancing was, in fact, to achieve a savings of $62,000. Additionally, Mr. Henry does not acknowledge that this is a lease revenue bond issue, meaning that the entire issue is financed by lease agreements on facilities with MH/MR, Tableland, and the Area Agency on Aging that guarantee the payment of the debt service.
Mr. Henry also alludes to the "annoying" county debt load as he did in his failed single-subject campaign. The truth is that the county's debt is manageable and according to the county's independent financial adviser the debt is not excessive compared to similarly sized counties.
He also fails to acknowledge that borrowing is the means governments use to accomplish capital projects. Nor does he recognize the valuable projects the debt provided. Three projects that comprise a significant portion of the debt are the construction of the County Office Building, the renovation of our wonderful courthouse, and the establishment of our state-of-the-art 911 center.
The office building consolidated county offices from several rental properties providing a one-stop environment for conducting business in addition to the much-maligned parking garage that freed several hundred on-street parking spaces for local businesses. The courthouse renovation consisted of major HVAC work including the replacement of 100 year old boilers. The 911 center is a major public safety improvement that had to be done.
Nothing involving any debt of the county or the SCGA was done "in secret" but rather in public meetings. Having worked for the county for 13 of my 35-year professional career in governmental auditing and accounting, I personally have a "clear conscience" concerning the debt and the solid financial position of the county and the SCGA. Mr. Henry proclaims his rebuttal trumped these facts. I have seen nothing of substance from him, only empty rhetoric. He continually confuses budget figures that are prepared several months in advance of the fiscal year instead of reviewing final year-end results; again, showing a total lack of understanding of how government really works.