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Tyrone’s Miller explains ‘no’ votes

TYRONE — In the aftermath of a Borough Council meeting this week, member Sarah Jane Miller wanted to be sure her constituents knew why she’d voted “no” on several motions that council nevertheless approved.

One was a resolution granting $6,000 raises to Borough Manager Ardean Latchford, bringing his salary to $78,500, and Finance Director Shannon Wilson, bringing hers to $56,900.

“Why do (they) need a raise like that?” Miller asked rhetorically.

They should have been given 2 percent raises like the other nonuniformed employees, Miller said.

Neither has been in their job for long, she said.

When she ran for council, she promised voters she’d look out for their interests “not of the people that work in the borough building, but the taxpayers,” she said.

“Any way I can save them money and help them, I’ll do it,” she said.

She doesn’t take her council member pay of $900 a year, she stated.

Council members shouldn’t be paid, she said. They should be willing to do their duties solely for the benefit of the community.

Councilman Dave Snyder argued that the raises were justified.

“I believe (Latchford and Wilson) have done a phenomenal job simplifying and streamlining the budget process” with the help of department heads, Snyder said. Latchford also has obtained significant extra revenue from the company that operates the windmills on the mountain above town on land the borough owns, helping to balance that budget, Snyder said.

Latchford negotiated a $250,000 payment from the company in the course of talks on renewing the windfarm lease, which provides the borough 4 percent of revenues generated by the windmills.

Moreover, Latchford’s raise simply brings his salary to where it would be if he’d not declined 2 percent raises he was offered in each of the past two years, Snyder said.

Finally, those raises just approved for Latchford and Wilson were transparent to council members, because they were voted upon in a special motion — not hidden within the budget, Snyder said.

Snyder is less definitive about council salaries.

He didn’t even know until he took his seat that members were paid, and he “flirted” at first with the idea of refusing his own salary, he said. He has no problem with Miller’s refusal to accept her pay and would have no problem if council voted to abolish payments to all members, he said. Still, those on council work hard, and no one’s doing it specifically for the money, given the small amounts, he said. Moreover, those amounts are no longer as valuable as they were when they were established in the 1980s, when the borough adopted a home rule charter, Snyder said.

Miller also voted “no” on a motion to award an $18,500 engineering contract for the rehabilitation of the Ninth Street pedestrian bridge — a $356,000 project for which a recently awarded grant will pay $200,000.

She regards any spending on the bridge, even the state grant, as “throwing money away.”

The bridge has been closed for a few years, and she doesn’t think anyone “really missed it.”

There are other ways to get to where the bridge takes pedestrians, and besides, in the past, the area under the bridge has been a haven for drinking parties, she said.

There are a significant number of borough residents who really care about the bridge, which has its place in borough history as the replacement for a bridge washed away in the great flood of 1936, said Snyder, a member of the Tyrone Historical Society. The rehabilitation of the bridge is a companion project to creation of a train viewing platform on the closed railroad bridge nearby, and it provides an easier passage to the train station and railroad park, enriching that area and making that part of town “beautiful and accessible,” Snyder said.

Miller also voted “no” to council’s appointment of outgoing member Thad Graham to the Tyrone Borough Authority, after Graham volunteered for the post, saying that council should have sought at least three applicants, so it could have made an intelligent choice from among them.

Mayor Bill Latchford abstained from the vote on the raises for the manager and finance director, because the manager is his brother.

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