Wyoming County commissioner Tom Henry (left) and chief clerk Bill Gaylord review copies of requests for reimbursement of bridge inspection payments on Monday. The information was sent to PennDOT on Monday morning in hopes that the highway department will release nearly a quarter million dollars in liquid fuels funds to the county.
Photo and story by Rick Hiduk
(Also published in the Rocket-Courier)
Following a second lashing by the state auditor general of Wyoming County officials for untapped liquid fuels funds, commissioner Tom Henry and chief clerk Bill Gaylord insist that they have done everything possible to secure the release of the disputed $226,962. Gaylord met with PennDOT officials on Nov. 1 and filed the required paperwork on Monday.
“Everything is in PennDOT’s hands as of this morning,” Gaylord stated. “I have a good feeling we’ll get it all back. It’ll all be turned over to the municipalities, because our (the county’s) bridges are in great shape.”
The controversy began on Oct. 25 when auditor general Eugene DePasquale issued a scathing report that singled out Wyoming County for gross negligence in not filing for bridge inspection reimbursements several years back to 2007. The total is a sum of both bridge inspection and bridge design spec reimbursements.
“It was an oversight, and we’re working to fix it,” said Gaylord.
The response of county officials to DePasquale’s allegations as reported by the media did little to appease the auditor general, who issued a second statement on Nov. 1 accusing them of “dodging blame” and “continuing to shirk their responsibility” to claim the funds, despite no direct communication with anyone at the county level.
“I’m livid at county officials who seem unfazed about ignoring (the funds),” he stated in the posting on his website. “It’s dereliction of duty to fail to obtain every cent of gas tax funding so that residents and first responders can avoid long detours because bridges and roads need repair.”
DePasquale appeared to be referencing a request of the commissioners by Exeter Township supervisor Rick Wilbur at an Oct. 30 public meeting to replace a bridge on Lockville Road that was closed four years ago. Gene Dziak, who serves as assistant fire chief for the Lake Winola Fire Company, as well as the county’s EMA director, echoed Wilbur’s concerns by noting that the detour is impractical for drivers of emergency vehicles.
Additionally, DePasquale indicated that his office is working with PennDOT to get Wyoming County the money to which the municipalities are entitled.
“We don’t need their help,” Henry asserted on Monday afternoon. “We’re already working with PennDOT.” He related that he’d also left messages for DePasquale on Nov. 1 and Nov. 4.
“He could have returned my calls,” said Henry, who referred to DePasquale’s most recent press release as “mean spirited” and “unnecessary.” Much of the rest of DePasquale’s second posted attack was redundant.
“It’s a political stunt,” Gaylord suggested. “Because it’s election time.”
In the meantime, he explained, the state has changed the process for filing for liquid fuels funds, making them more automatic. “We’ll never have to do this again,” Gaylord stated.
Henry spoke with a representative of DePasquale’s office on Wednesday and expressed his dismay that the auditor general had issued such strong statements without contacting any of the commissioners personally. Henry conceded that Gaylord was at fault for the issue at hand and explained that they were working closely with PennDOT to rectify the situation.