Luzerne County Manager C. David Pedri presented his plea Tuesday for creating two new positions in his office next year — a chief operating officer at $96,000 and a communications coordinator for $51,000.
Using a comparison to online shopping sites, Pedri told council he could accept keeping the communications position in a cart for future consideration but sorely needs the chief operating officer now.
The chief operating officer would be be ranked above the eight division heads and identify and implement projects that impact multiple divisions, with authority to issue directives if there is disagreement among divisions.
Pedri said he “runs from problem to problem” and struggles to carve out time to dig into special projects because he must oversee day-to-day operations in a county with 1,500 employees and a range of specialized services. He said he was “thrilled” to have one day last week to process email and write memos.
He said he set the salary high attempting to attract an applicant with a master’s degree and government experience. As with the division head posts, council would have the power to accept or reject the manager’s nominee for the position, he said.
“This individual would be a major part of the administration,” he said.
Council members did not debate that position request during the session.
Pedri said he sought a communications director, in part, because he typically spends three to four hours per week responding to media inquiries.
He said he stood out at a recent County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania conference because some of his counterparts were discussing how they can attract media coverage. That’s not an issue here, he said, because there are several competing television stations, newspapers and radio programs.
Pedri said he welcomes media coverage and works hard to answer all reporter questions because the county’s home rule government emphasized transparency, but assistance would free up more time for other county business.
The communications coordinator also would help “identify the complete image of Luzerne County” and prepare media releases and handle social media, an employee newsletter and other special projects, he said.
Councilman Eugene Kelleher said he doesn’t support hiring a communications director and praised Pedri for his communication skills.
Prior county manager Robert Lawton’s requests for two similar positions had been rejected.
The administration’s proposed 2018 budget requested 16 new posts. The two Pedri lobbied for Tuesday and seven other new ones would be covered by a $500,000 allocation in the general fund. Another seven new positions would be covered by state funding and other outside sources.
However, Pedri announced Tuesday he will withdraw his request for two new court trial specialist positions intended to assist with Children and Youth cases because state and county officials are pursuing other options.
The manager also asked council Tuesday to consider funding two capital projects with part of this year’s $11.6 million windfall, which was generated through a litigation settlement, debt refinancing, an unspent reserve and other sources.
Council members have expressed support for the administration’s proposal to use $8.6 million of the one-time cushion to get caught up on employee pension fund subsidies, but they are still reviewing options for the rest of the money.
Approximately $150,000 more will be needed to gut and redo showers at the county’s Water Street prison and minimum offenders building on nearby Reichard Street, both in Wilkes-Barre, Pedri said.
The county already set aside $540,000 for the project, but the lowest price secured after three rounds of bidding was $662,000, according to Pedri. In addition to the $122,000 difference, he recommended $28,000 for unanticipated cost overruns.
Council could scrap the project, but Pedri said that’s not wise. The showers have been leaking for years, causing “significant” damage. Damaged shower tiles also could be used as weapons, he said.
Prison projects tend to be more expensive because contracted workers must undergo background checks and clear tools and other equipment whenever they enter and exit.
Pedri said he did not approach council “lightly” because the county worked hard to obtain debt savings.
“I don’t want to quickly spend it,” he said.
He also asked council to consider allocating $399,000 for three new dump trucks at $133,000 each. The county’s four trucks, which are used for snow removal on 127 miles of county-owned roads, were purchased 15 years ago, he said.
In other business, the administration is finalizing a proposed contract with Pennsylvania-based McClure Company to complete $3.9 million in projects that the company has guaranteed will save a total $5 million in electrical, gas and other utility expenses over the next 12 years, Pedri said.
The county recently borrowed $7.9 million to fund the project. McClure also wanted to complete the remaining $4 million in projects, but Pedri said that work will be bid out to determine if a lower price is offered.
McClure’s work will include switching to interior and exterior LED lighting, insulation and other building sealing, plumbing upgrades and boiler improvements.
Reach Jennifer Learn-Andes at 570-991-6388 or on Twitter @TLJenLearnAndes.