Sistare column: Lancaster County is moving forward

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Democrat Kathy Sistare is chair of Lancaster County Council. She is seeking re-election in District 5.


Over the last four years, Lancaster County Council has made great strides in moving Lancaster County forward.

 Lancaster County has instituted a strategic planning program and, in January 2013, County Council will meet to establish the third iteration of this document, which serves as the basis for operations and budgeting for Lancaster County. Lancaster County’s first capital improvement plan was just adopted following a year of work by department heads and the staff of the Catawba Regional Council of Governments. While this document does not appropriate any funds for projects, it serves as a valuable planning tool for long-range budgeting.

In addition to important planning and budgeting initiatives, we have also amended the budgeting process to make it more open for public input. The process begins earlier with departmental requests compiled into the administrator’s proposed budget. The Finance Committee then conducts meetings to review the budget followed by formal council consideration. Meetings include citizens’ comments and a public hearing is conducted. Budget documents are made available online for public inspection.  

Over the next four years, I see improved services for our citizens from your County Council. The new sheriff’s office complex will greatly enhance law enforcement protection in Lancaster County by providing adequate work space for patrol officers and crime scene technicians and office space for investigators.  The current sheriff’s office space will become a state of the art 911 Center. Council has invested heavily in material and manpower to make sure our citizens receive help in times of crisis. We look to continue to make improvements in EMS and fire service as well.

Jobs, jobs, jobs continue to be an area of emphasis for County Council. The Workforce Action Team is a new group meeting to make sure we have adequate workforce training for our residents to fill the new jobs coming into Lancaster County. We need to continue working with existing firms to meet their needs and review potential for incentives when expansion projects are implemented. We will continue to partner with Lancaster County Economic Development Corp. to make Lancaster County attractive to companies looking to locate here to continue to bring the jobless rate down.

The future of the capital project sales tax will come up within the next four years. Current projections show the original sales tax, used to pay for the new county courthouse, being complete in the summer to fall 2015 time frame. This is some nine to 12 months before the statutory seven-year conclusion of the tax. As the voters were told, this turned out to be a good tool to pay for the infrastructure without adding a 30-year increase on property tax bills. We need to begin thinking about a possible Phase 2 of the capital project sales tax. Council is interested in funding road-maintenance projects, not road-widening projects.  The potential tax could be used for much more at the same time, such as park improvements, funding to help our volunteer fire departments expand their stations, an expanded and improved library and renovated school buildings. The list of potential projects is only limited by the imagination of our citizenry and ultimately the will of the voters.

Council is conscious of spending and looks at all tax dollars. However, sometimes you have to spend money in the short term to save money in the long run. For example: We now purchase new patrol cars for the sheriff’s office rather than used highway patrol cars. While more expensive initially, over the life of the vehicle, you save far more by not having to repaint the vehicle and have much lower maintenance costs on a car with zero miles on it versus 100,000 miles when you first acquire it. Much improved safety for our deputies is a big consideration as well.

We hope that the next four years will see continued growth and dropping unemployment for Lancaster County. County Council works hard to see that Lancaster is well-positioned to take advantage of the opportunities that await us.