OPED: A parting slap from Hellam Twp. officials

Galen L. Weibley
Hellam Township supervisor

From time to time, Pennsylvania has elected leaders who forget they are never larger than the institution they were elected to serve.  Instead, after years of indulging in power these very same elected officials become complacent and believe they are above the institution and the voters who elected them.  Fortunately in our commonwealth, these same local institutions have ways to keep disobedient leaders in check via local elections.  Because of the outcome the Hellam Township election, residents have now been shown the self-serving nature of the incumbent board of supervisors.

Hellam Township Supervisor Galen L. Weibley

On Nov. 3, residents of Hellam Township voted overwhelmingly to remove the 12-year incumbent supervisors Michael Martin, Steve Wolf and their follower Bill Sprenkle, all of whom ran under the “Smart Growth” banner.  Unfortunately 16 days later, Mr. Martin and friends decided to show their true colors by spending approximently $500,000 to pay off the public works building, drastically depleting the township’s reserve funds.  A few days after the approval, Mr. Martin and Mr. Wolf quickly went into the township office and signed off on the check. In summary the people of Hellam Township lost half a million dollars in reserves within 72 hours, all because Mr. Martin and friends of Smart Growth had no respect for the institution they were sworn to serve.

Mr. Martin said the reasoning for the allocation was to not allow his predessors to inheirit his “financial mess,” which is a complete and utter fallacy. This “financial mess” would have been a $17,000 budget deficit, which is a cake walk compared to past proposed deficits climbing anywhere over $30,000.  It is also worth noting the interest rate of of the public works building was 3 percent, which is less than my student loan interest rates.  After the meeting, I spoke with financial experts and they recommended the township pay a portion of the building down and renegotiate a new, lower fixed interest rate instead of paying off the building in full.

Now that the township emergency funds have been raided by our outgoing “Smart Growth” supervisors, Hellam is left with approximently $400,000, which is well below the 25 percent recommended minimum by our auditing firm.  In addition to inheriting depleted reserves, the new supervisors will need to pay for unattended road projects, four high-mileage police vehicles needing replaced and increased healthcare costs just to name a few.  The new board will not only have to address these issues but also save money in the event of unforseen expenses as we commonly observe when a natural and man-made disaster strike.  For years Mr. Martin and his “Smart Growth” allies advocated for the health and welfare of township residents, but why wasn’t the same amount of prudence considered to preserve the township reserves in the event of natural and man-made disasters?

Raiding these reserve funds show a lack of respect for the institution they swore to uphold.  As I explained in the supervisors meeting before the allocation was to be approved, not too long ago we had a governor who wanted pension reform passed as his top legislative accomplishment.  The problem was the governor did not have the necessary votes to pass the legislation until two weeks to the end of his term.  Instead of doing what he personally thought was right and push the legislation through, he respected the institution and the will of the people.  This statesman knew passing his personal whims would allow a dangerous precedent for future governors to pass their own personal convictions after losing re-election.

The dirty magic trick orchestrated by Magician Martin to make Hellam Township’s reserve funds disappear is the same lack of respect residents did not want running their township for another six years.  It is worth noting every supervisor who voted in favor of the allocation will not be serving with me on the board in 2016.  This illustrates how the appropriation wasn’t done in the best interests of Hellam Township but instead served as a slap in the face to residents who didn’t vote for Mr. Martin or Smart Growth.  I hope these soon to be ex-supervisors feel utterly ashamed for placing their fellow neighbors in a precarious situation.  In closing, I would like to wish Mr. Martin a happy retirement and hope he remembers Hellam is no longer in need of cunning and disrespectful magicians but humble and transparent public servants to lead the township in 2016.