Pedri proposes more courthouse restoration, other projects in capital budget

By Jennifer Learn-Andes - jandes@timesleader.com
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Luzerne County Manager C. David Pedri is proposing a total $1.3 million in parking lot repairs and additional courthouse restoration, which would leave $664,246 in the dwindling capital fund, according to his capital budget presented to county council Tuesday.

Missing from his to-do list, due to a lack of sufficient funds, are a 911 radio communication system overhaul estimated at $20 million and the purchase of new voting machines to comply with a paper ballot mandate, which could cost as much as $4 million.

The 2019 projects Pedri is proposing along with the estimated costs:

• The second phase of courthouse restoration, $650,000.

This phase would restore, repair and conserve first-floor walls, ceilings and floors not addressed in the recently completed $2.13 million rotunda and south lobby restoration.

• Parking lot repair and resurfacing, $400,000.

This would involve lots at seven county-owned buildings, including Penn Place, the Courthouse Annex, West Side Annex and Hanover Township Annex.

• Resurfacing of parking lots at the county-owned Human Services Building on Pennsylvania Avenue in Wilkes-Barre, $150,000.

• Reserve for emergency repairs at county-owned buildings, $100,000.

Pedri acknowledged the fund, which primarily came from past-borrowed money, is shrinking. He suggested infusing it with annual allocations from the general fund operating budget and by earmarking an expected $1.2 million from an expired tax-diversion program for capital projects.

Council has until September to adopt the plan, with or without changes. If not, Pedri’s proposal automatically takes effect.

Councilman Harry Haas described the fund’s decline to $664,246 as “downright scary.”

Councilwoman Linda McClosky Houck said the report is lacking a projection of other looming projects that council may deem more pressing.

Pedri said he included the projects the administration identified as most urgent within available resources, but he agreed to ask the engineer’s office to come up with a list of other projects that may be needed along with the estimated costs.

The manager said many capital repairs have been addressed in recent years in addition to courthouse restoration, including new elevators and roofs at most county buildings.

Coal Street

Council unanimously voted Tuesday on a resolution declaring its Human Services Building on Pennsylvania Avenue is not available for sale.

At least three and possibly all four of the county-owned parcels at this site would be needed for Wilkes-Barre’s plans to extend Coal Street to Pennsylvania Avenue. The city cannot seize the county parking lot through eminent domain for the extension because it is owned by another government entity, several officials have said.

The city is legally challenging disbursement of $2.9 million left from a tax diversion program, arguing the money must stay intact to cover the Coal Street extension. The county, Wilkes-Barre Area School District and Wilkes-Barre Township disagree and say they’re entitled to receive what’s left of their sacrificed funds because all required program projects have been completed. This is the source of the estimated $1.2 million that Pedri wants to deposit in the county’s capital fund.

Before the no-sale vote, Haas said he is a “huge fan” of Wilkes-Barre and said he and other county officials have supported many projects to help the city over the years. He criticized the city for taking a “combative approach” over liquidation of the tax diversion, noting the city did not forego any tax revenue for that program.

Union contract

A new union contract with the 164-member AFSCME residual union also received majority council support Tuesday.

The contract contains wording allowing a transition to armed security guards, effective immediately. Training will be provided for all existing security guards so they can carry guns, said county Administrative Services Division Head David Parsnik.

Some other contract highlights:

• Wages will increase 2 percent in 2018, 2.75 percent in 2019 and 2.5 percent in both 2020 and 2021.

• The starting salary increases: 2018, $250; 2019, $300; 2020, $250; and 2021, $350. The standard entry-level starting salary is currently $21,000, but it is $32,000 for 911 telecommunicators.

• Employees hired after Jan. 1, 2014, will continue contributing 15 percent toward health insurance. Employees hired before that date have been paying 10 percent but will be required to contribute 12 percent starting in 2019.

Audit

The county’s 2017 audit won’t be completed by the home rule government’s June 30 deadline due to Children and Youth financial record issues, Pedri announced at the end of the meeting.

Instead, a draft audit covering the general fund and most other county-related departments will be released by June 30, with the final audit including Children and Youth expected in August, he said.

Pedri said the delay is troubling because he was proud to release two on-time audits as manager.

The administration was alerted months ago that Children and Youth records needed by outside auditors were not “up to speed,” he said. The administration quickly dealt with personnel issues in the office and assembled a team of staffers and outside auditing helpers to work overtime in a failed attempt to meet the deadline, he said.

Pedri expects the draft audit will show the county ended 2017 with a surplus, which will help reduce the $8 million deficit it is carrying on its financial books.

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By Jennifer Learn-Andes

jandes@timesleader.com

Reach Jennifer Learn-Andes at 570-991-6388 or on Twitter @TLJenLearnAndes.

Reach Jennifer Learn-Andes at 570-991-6388 or on Twitter @TLJenLearnAndes.