First Posted: 3/1/2013
If Home Rule in Luzerne County can be likened to a triathlon, the county is just one-third of the way home.
That’s what Robert C. Lawton, Luzerne County manager, told the gathering at the Greater Pittston Chamber of Commerce annual Mid-Winter Breakfast Meeting Friday at St. Anthony’s Parish Hall, Exeter
Lawton, the County’s first manager under the Home Rule Charter adopted in 2010, came to Luzerne County with more than 30-years of public service under his belt. His last position was as a County Administrative Officer of Calaveras County in California.
On the job for about a year, Lawton is enthusiastic about the future of the county but cautioned that there is much to be done. “Home Rule government didn’t finish the day that the Home Rule was adopted,” said Lawton. “We have just finished the swimming leg of the triathlon this first year with council, the first year with the manager, the first year of the authority and power granted under the charter.”
The next two phases, Lawton went on to say, is the cycling leg then the running leg. “The point is, we have a long game, and there is much work ahead of us. This has to be a shift in our culture at the county and that has taken route and are raising of the expectations both internally on the management side and by the public.”
This year the county has a $260 million budget, from which the current administration shaved off $400,000 from last year’s budget. “We did not increase our budget, we reduced spending under the Home Rule administration; we held the line on taxes,” Lawton said.
On the downside of holding down taxes and reducing the budget there are no new buildings, highway systems or bridges planned. “That’s in the past,” Lawton said. “We have to made good on our debt service.”
Lawton said the 1,400 county employees take up 52% of the budget with 20% earmarked to repay the debt service. The rest goes to insurance and collective bargaining costs.
The county is fully funding its health insurance obligation this year and not waiting until the end of the year to find out where they can get the money, he said.
“I’m going to be using the Council’s Strategic Initiatives Committee, their findings, their plan linking that to our county budget, so when you as a public take a look at our county budget, tt’s a document that tells you our story that explains what it is we do at the county, why we do it, how well we do it compared to other counties and how much we did better this year, than last year,” Lawton said. “It’s about being transparent and it’s about being accountable to the Council for the money we request and to the public for the taxes we spent.”
Lawton went on to talk about two long-term goals of this administration: the refurbishment of the corrections facility and of Moon Lake Park.
“Moon Lake Park is another entity,” he said “It’s 700 acres of what I believe should be ‘the people’s country club’ and we have not been able to fund that. We have not been able to operate that in the manner that people deserve.”
“We’ve had a good year, we’re going to have a great year next year,” Lawton concluded. “I think you’re going to like what you’re going to see in the next twelve-months.”
Phyllis Brandwene served as General Chairperson of the breakfast.