Those of us who are willing to admit being old enough to remember the old “Dragnet” television show will recall Jack Webb’s character admonishing witnesses to give him “just the facts.” Facts are also what is needed in discussing the current lawsuit filed against Coal Township by Northumberland County Commissioners Sam Schiccatano and Rick Shoch over the one percent permit fee levied by the Township for construction and remodeling projects performed within the municipality. (It should be noted that Commissioner Kym Best, to her credit, has opposed this lawsuit).

First, the 1 percent fee has been in effect for many years. It is a very reasonable fee, and there has never been a complaint about it until Schiccatano and Shoch discovered that they would be required to pay the fee for the new prison project. In fact, Sam Schiccatano was absolutely aware of the permit fee, as he has resided in Coal Township for many years, and presumably has paid the fee for the construction of his home, and/or remodeling projects in which he has engaged while residing there.

So why did a paltry 1 percent fee become such a burden, that Shoch and Schiccatano felt the need to take the radical step of expending taxpayer dollars in filing a lawsuit against Coal Twp. in order to avoid paying the fee?

Well, the sad fact is that Schiccatano and Shoch have overspent and mismanaged the prison project to a point at which they have become so desperate to cut costs, that they would be willing to saddle the taxpayers of Coal Township with a hefty tax increase in order to avoid paying the permit fee.

After the prison fire, the county already owned the old prison site, and the former Celotex Plant site (which had been purchased at a cost of $4.5 million) available on which to construct a new prison. However, Sam and Shoch chose instead to spend an additional $6.5 million to purchase the former Northwestern Academy site in Coal Township. They justified this by claiming the existing buildings could be used, thereby saving $10 to $15 million in construction costs. That plan fell into the “dreaming in Technicolor” category, as the true cost of the prison has skyrocketed to at least $46 million, and may have, in fact, exceeded $60 million. A final figure is difficult to nail down, because so many different funds have been creatively shifted around, in what appears to be a deliberate attempt to hide the actual cost of the prison project. We’re all familiar with the old adage, “Figures don’t lie, but liars figure.”

In order to compensate for their wretched excesses in spending for the prison project, Schiccatano and Shoch have been seeking methods of cutting costs, one of which was to attempt to convince the Coal Township commissioners to waive the permit fee. When the commissioners refused, Sam and Shoch filed a lawsuit. It needs to be understood that this ill-advised action, if successful, will have far-reaching adverse consequences, not only for the taxpayers of Coal Township but for those residing in any municipality that currently charges a permit fee. Municipalities depend on the revenue generated by these fees, and if they are no longer able to collect them, the shortfall will have to be made up in the form of a significant tax increase. Thanks Sam and Rick!

This action is particularly despicable in the case of Sam Schiccatano, who earned his living as a teacher whose salary was paid by the very same taxpayers he is now suing. He also continues receiving compensation from area taxpayers in the form of two coaching salaries at the Shamokin Area School District, which as a member of the school board, I have opposed.

Lest this letter be perceived as an election-year, partisan attack, rest assured it is not. Schiccatano, Shoch and I share the same party affiliation, and in fact, I once supported them. However, dishonesty, incompetence and self-serving actions are unacceptable regardless of which party is responsible.

Charles H. Shuey

Coal Township

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