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New Franklin County Commissioners ready for first day on the job

January 05, 2008|By DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, PA. ? This is the fourth time around for Franklin County Commissioner Bob Thomas, but new Commissioners Bob Ziobrowski and David S. Keller said they have used the two months since their election to prepare for their first day on the job Monday.

"I'm as well-prepared as the elected officials, previous commissioners and staff could make me," Ziobrowski said after being sworn in Friday. "They've done a good job helping me."

"Lots of meetings. Lots of reading," Keller said of his preparation. "I've attended meetings of the board, and I'm aware of all the committees the commissioners sit on."

"The absolute first priority is to get the new members comfortable with county operations," said Thomas, a Republican elected to his fourth four-year term in November. "We began working with the new board shortly after the election. Dave and Bob Z will probably be the best-prepared new commissioners ever."

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Ziobrowski, a Democrat, said he has attended several board meetings since the election, as well as prison board and salary board meetings, other bodies on which the commissioners serve.

They also both attended a four-day conference sponsored by the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania in November "that helps get new commissioners up to speed," Keller said. Thomas, Ziobrowski and he also have held several informal meetings in recent weeks, he said.

"I've also been reading up on the county code and there's a county commissioners' handbook ... more scintillating reading," Keller said.

While Thomas had a record to run on after a dozen years as commissioner, the campaigns of Ziobrowski and Keller basically were about continuity rather than change. Both were asked about the challenges of the next four years.

"The biggest challenge coming down the road is the uncertainty of state and federal support for county operations," Ziobrowski said. About three-quarters of the $115 million budget for 2008 are programs that the county is paid to run for the state and federal governments, he said.

One job training program for south-central Pennsylvania has seen its funding slashed by about 50 percent, Ziobrowski said, citing one example.

"If we're going to have job training, who's going to pick up the slack when the state and federal governments cut funding?" he asked. The county could be faced with either cutting programs or paying for them out of the general fund, that portion of the budget funded through local taxes and fees.

"Reduced funding from the state and federal governments in the area of human services," Keller, a Republican, said in answer to the question of challenges. As those sources of money become more tenuous, the county will have to find ways to "provide the best possible services at the best possible price," he said.

The county also needs to continue to secure funding for farmland preservation, Keller said. Balanced economic development and reducing drug and alcohol abuse are two other issues he stressed in his campaign.

"All of the commissioners in the campaign indicated that farmland preservation is important, and that's going to be one of our top priorities in the early part of the new year is coming up with funding opportunities to help preserve our program," Thomas said.

By 2011, county voters could be electing a fifth judge, and that presents a challenge, Thomas said.

"The county has in its 2008 budget a facilities study which will take that into account," Thomas said.

The addition of a fourth Court of Common Pleas judge position a few years ago required converting the former county commissioners suite of offices into a courtroom, while the commissioners moved into leased space next door.

Thomas said adding another courtroom could mean construction of new space rather than conversion of existing space, "but that's not necessarily the case." It also means an additional secretary, law clerk and deputies for courtroom security, he said.

The board will reorganize Monday morning, its first day of business. Traditionally, the highest vote-getter in the general election, in this case Thomas, is elected chairman.

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