The Edge of the Wood

by John Messeder, Nemophilist & Ecological Storyteller

A question most worth asking

Turn right at the stop. If you're in the creek, you missed it.Our annual school tax check – about 75 percent of it goes to public schools – is on the dining room table. Yes, it’s mostly a school tax and, truth be told, a reasonable investment in our communities’ offspring. Still, it’s taxes, and it’s a large enough check to pay for a trip I’d like to take later this year.

Wednesday morning’s newspaper had a front page story about Darlene Brown earning more than $168,000 plus nearly $34,000 benefits for her role in providing housing to poor people. Clearly, those numbers were what the writer wanted readers to take away – he mentioned them several times – and in a county that considers $30,000 to be a pretty OK salary, those numbers are certainly worthy of note.

The salaries were totaled from Brown’s directorship of three agencies.

Why are there three agencies doing the same job? Several years ago, while researching a related story, I was told each agency receives funding from a different source: one from the federal government, another from non-government philanthropic sources, etc. Pennsylvania Interfaith Community Programs Inc., I was told, was not eligible to receive money from the same sources as Adams County Housing Authority, thus the seeming replication of agencies was necessary to take advantage of multiple funding streams.

On the editorial page of the same edition, there was a column from State Representative Will Tallman in which he decried “the state budget spending bill that was allowed to become law by Gov. Tom Wolf.” The fact apparently slipped his mind that the legislative branch concocted the bill and sent it to Gov. Wolf.

Tallman compiled a truckload of words on the House effort to gain control of $3 billion allegedly found languishing in a variety of state government accounts. But where the lazy money has been found lounging, he deliberately omitted. “We’re keeping details under wraps as long as possible,” he wrote.

Which looks to me like the standard “waste, fraud and abuse” we hear about during every election cycle, with no specifics and, in the end, nothing done about it.

We taxpayers complain mightily about the gouge taken annually from the area of our back pants pockets. In many cases, the complaint certainly seems justified, the results of our financial contributions not easily seen. We will not see the results of money we have put into schools until several years after high school graduation. Road maintenance is, of course, more visibly present through our windshield when we are stopped behind a flagger, but if no one breaks into our home and our supervisors and county commissioners tell us they haven’t raised our tax rates, we assume all is more or less well.

Hartman said he knew “to the penny” – though he did not share his knowledge – how much the heads of two other local social service agencies are paid. I suspect Brown’s three salaries, averaging $56,000, are not grossly out of line, taken one at a time. After all, the U.S. Census bureau reports $60,356 (in 2015 dollars) as the median income among Adams Countians – the statistic most often touted by those who believe the county does not need new industry or more better-than-retail clerk-paying jobs.

The question that seems most worth asking is what kind of laws are the guardians of waste, fraud and abuse writing that allows three agencies to reside in the same building, occupy the same office, and be directed from behind the same desk to perform the same task – in this case provide housing to Adams Countians who do not earn sufficient wage to keep a roof over their families’ heads.


  1. Richard Schmoyer

    September 4, 2017 at 00:10

    Wow .That is well over twice as much as I earned as a Department Director upon retirement five years ago. I can’t imagine county department head salaries have increased to that level. We always had to do time sheets to compute percentage of a set salary drawn down from the County General Fund, State funds (PennDot usually) or the Federal Government for specific work tasks paid by the various sources. Also was the $60,000 figure for annual household income or was it for average individual earnings? Big difference! We have households with multiple wage earners as well as a good number of relatively well off retirees that pull up the average made by individual wage earners. . Thanks John.

    • The $60k figure was median income — equal number of earners above and below that number — and it was in an area talking about population, so I’m thinking it was individual wage earners. The average wage is considerably lower, at about $27k. On a per-job basis, Brown’s $56 k would not seem so out of line with, say, the County commissioners, though it’s way under school superintendents. It would be interesting to dig out the salary for township managers.

      But the greatest problem with her pay is not the per-job number, but the fact she is encouraged to hold three publicly funded positions, in the same building, at the same desk, doing the same job.

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