``I want a serious review,'' Stretton said. ``He [Riley] should hold their feet to the fire to demonstrate there is a real need'' for the tax increase.
At a public meeting on Nov. 26, the commissioners adopted both a preliminary budget for 1997 and a resolution to petition Chester County Court for approval to exceed the statutory limit of 25 mills for the general fund.
Three days later, the petition was filed, and a hearing date was set for Dec. 16. Appearing for the county before Riley were Solicitor Thomas Whiteman and county budget chief Mark Rupsis. Stretton said in his complaint that the session lasted all of three minutes.
``I had all the budget documents there, the staff was there, and we were prepared to answer any questions,'' said Rupsis. But the judge asked very few, he said. The main focus of Riley's questioning was the tradeoff between the personal property tax, which the commissioners voted to eliminate, and the real estate tax, Rupsis said.
Of the 7.7-mill increase, about 6.5 mills is needed to replace the $10.5 million in revenues formerly generated by the personal property tax, according to budget documents.
Riley approved the county's request for an increase the same day, and that night, the commissioners held a hearing on the budget. Five members of the public attended the hearing, none of whom seriously contested the need for the increase. The final budget was adopted Dec. 20.
A week later, Stretton petitioned the court to intervene. He said he was not aware of either the court hearing or the public hearing later the same day. In any event, he argues that neither hearing was ``appropriate.''
Commissioner Colin Hanna disagrees. ``We are quite confident that we have done everything appropriately,'' said Hanna.