Luzerne County Manager C. David Pedri arrived at his second annual public forum Wednesday night with a plate of chocolate chip cookies and a PowerPoint presentation of accomplishments.
”2017 was a big year for us, especially financially,” Pedri said during the 90-minute session required by the county’s home rule charter.
Topping his list were the county’s:
• Restoration of an investment-grade credit rating
• Receipt of a $4 million baseball franchise litigation settlement
• Refinancing to convert all debt repayments to fixed rates and save millions of dollars without extending the 2029 payoff date
• Payment of double employee pension fund subsidies to correct an inherited problem of overdue payments
• Completion within deadline of an unqualified 2016 audit reporting a $1.3 million surplus that was applied to reducing the deficit on the county books
• Council’s adoption of a no-tax-hike 2018 budget containing a more than $4 million reserve
He also noted this year’s opening of a new record storage site in Hanover Township.
In addition to $1.9 million for the purchase and renovation, the latest capital plan allocated more funds to create a new space for the public to research records. Four contracts totaling $339,128 have been awarded to complete the public space, according to the county website.
Three citizens — Brian Shiner, Ed Chesnovitch and Charles Olah — provided feedback on various topics, with Pedri periodically jotting down some of their suggestions, such as more user-friendly online postings of candidate campaign finance reports before elections.
Some other updates from his presentation and report, which is posted on the manager section at www.luzernecounty.org:
Attempting to improve safety, the sheriff’s department has deactivated courthouse access cards of prior employees — a “huge undertaking” that had not been completed for years, Pedri said. Access cards also were revoked for title searchers, attorneys and other non-employee courthouse regular visitors.
• Health insurance
All employees were required to produce marriage licenses and birth certificates of dependents to verify they were eligible for county health insurance coverage. Approximately 1,100 county employees receive health coverage, with an additional 300 spouses and dependents enrolled.
The citizens urged Pedri to consider eliminating a longstanding $1,500 bonus for employees who opt out of insurance coverage. Analysis would be necessary to determine how many impacted employees would choose to accept county coverage without the bonus, he said.
The 2018 budget authorizes 1,546 positions, including nine new ones. There are currently 80 open positions.
Noting the county once employed 2,100, Pedri said he believes the county now has “a good number of employees to get the job done” and does not anticipate adding positions in 2018.
While the county’s benefit package is still attractive, Pedri said recruitment for rank-and-file jobs remains a challenge due to the compensation. He said a qualified applicant turned down a job offer Wednesday because it started at $24,000.
• Media communication
Pedri said his new media policy requiring employees to contact him before making statements on the county’s behalf was not intended to have a “chilling” effect or impede free speech. He told citizens he wants to ensure he has a say in all statements because he is ultimately responsible and wants to ensure information is accurate.
Employees who violate the policy face disciplinary action.
• Courthouse rotunda
Another $7,000 for LED rotunda lighting will be added to the $2.128 million restoration project because the lighting has been out of commission since the early 1990s. Addressing lighting is prudent while scaffolding is in the rotunda, Pedri said, stressing contractors selected a system that won’t damage restored murals.
Launching of a new county website has been delayed until June, in part because Pedri wants to include activation of two tools under development — a prison database providing inmate photographs, housing assignments, criminal charges and bails and a court calendar listing daily proceedings scheduled to be heard by all judges, along with their courtroom locations.
Reach Jennifer Learn-Andes at 570-991-6388 or on Twitter @TLJenLearnAndes.