Dahlkemper, Tucci ready to tackle issues as Erie County executive [Erie Times-News, Pa.]
(Erie Times-News (PA) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Oct. 13--Declines in state and federal funding.
The continued growth of public safety and 911 operations, and charting a path for economic development.
Either Democrat Kathy Dahlkemper or Republican Don Tucci will face those challenges, and others, as the next Erie County executive. And both candidates say they are motivated to succeed and qualified to tackle those issues.
Dahlkemper, a former congresswoman, and Tucci, who operates a website design and marketing consulting business, square off in the Nov. 5 municipal election.
The winner takes office in January.
"We need to be strategic and creative dealing with these issues," said Dahlkemper, 55, who defeated incumbent and fellow Democrat Barry Grossman in the May primary. "And as county executive I will need to depend on people who have been in the departments dealing with these issues, to make sure we utilize (county funds) in the best way possible."
Tucci said that as county executive, he would focus on closely watching finances and building strong relationships with officials at the state and federal levels as well as County Council and county department heads.
He said his status as "an outsider" -- Tucci is originally from the Pittsburgh area -- is a benefit.
"Sometimes it's best to be an outsider," Tucci said. "I've been around this country ... from coast to coast. I've experienced a lot of what different states have to offer.
"Some people think I'm a zealot," Tucci said. "I'm passionate about being here because of what (Erie County) has to offer. Somebody needs to have the initiative, the drive and the skills and the tenacity to promote Erie County. I have that ability."
County government has taken its share of financial hits in recent years.
Since 2010, the county has lost at least $34 million in state and federal grant funding, according to county financial figures.
That includes cuts to libraries, drug and alcohol and mental health programs; Children and Youth services and Domestic Relations grants; declines in the telephone surcharges that fund 911 operations; and medical reimbursements slashed at Pleasant Ridge Manor, its two nursing homes.
The county laid off employees, froze wages and cut programs to deal with the funding shortfalls.
"The economy isn't promising, and we anticipate further reductions of some type," said Sue Ellen Pasquale, the county's manager of general accounting.
"We have had unfunded mandates," Pasquale said. "Health education and environmental services. Community health services. The state mandates these things but we're getting less money for them. And we have to put more county money into them."
Dahlkemper said she would seek ideas from all county employees, including managers and "the people on the ground," about how to deal with funding shortfalls. Dahlkemper said that as county executive, she would also visit Harrisburg frequently to lobby for funding.
"Making sure that we have the relationships is important," Dahlkemper said.
Tucci called funding cuts "a grave situation" for the county. As county executive, he said he would focus on keeping "lines of communication open" with Harrisburg and Washington, D.C., and try to negotiate with state and federal officials.
"How do we get funding for anything?" Tucci said. "In my opinion, I am the lobbyist ... somebody who can take a hands-on approach."
Dahlkemper and Tucci said that as county executive they would take a long look at the county's Department of Public Safety, which includes the 911 center in Summit Township.
The center has seen dispatching mistakes and equipment problems, but the county's public safety expenses have grown by millions over the years as more local municipalities joined the center to shutter their own dispatch centers to cut costs.
Now county government is considering joining a regional 911 network with nine other counties, as well as a study to determine the best way to launch a new countywide public safety radio network that could cost up to $20 million to implement.
"We need to look at that entire department and figure out if we are meeting the goals and expectations the people of the county have," Dahlkemper said. "We still have centers who are not a part of our 911 center ... they don't believe the center the county runs is adequate enough to take them on."
Dahlkemper added that she is not convinced the county should launch another study of radio operations. The issue has been examined by consultants before.
Tucci said he has questions about whether county government should become part of the regional 911 network, known as Northern Tier, "until we have an efficient program and communication system here."
Tucci said he's also troubled that some local agencies, such as Pennsylvania State Police, Millcreek Township Police and emergency responders in eastern Erie County, are not part of the county-run center.
County Council, in 2009, eliminated funding for the county's director of economic development, citing tight finances.
The panel denied a Grossman request to bring that job back.
Dahlkemper and Tucci said they would attempt to restore the position if elected, because it's crucial to job creation, retention and business attraction efforts.
"We need someone who comes to work every single day with nothing else on their mind but (improving) the economic stability and climate in Erie County," Dahlkemper said.
The county executive also needs to play a role in pushing economic development at the regional level, she said, and "have a good handle on what's going on with the most crucial businesses to our economy, like GE Transportation."
Tucci agreed the county needs an economic development director. He also wants to create "a one stop regulatory system that encourages businesses to come here." That center would allow companies to go to one point of contact for information about regulations, insurance, financing and available properties.
"A lot of times people get disillusioned, especially most entrepreneurs," Tucci said, who said bureaucracy sometimes "discourages people from expanding or growing a business."
Next Sunday: Dahlkemper and Tucci discuss regional leadership, and why they believe the county executive must provide it.
KEVIN FLOWERS can be reached at 870-1693 or by e-mail. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/ETNflowers. Read the Campaign '13 blog at and post comments.
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