Luzerne County Council to vote on $1.5 million transfer for capital projects

By Jennifer Learn-Andes -

A vote to move $1.5 million of this year’s Luzerne County government surplus into a fund for capital projects is on Tuesday’s county council agenda.

The county still has $2.1 million left from one-time revenue windfalls.

Any leftover funding not earmarked for other purposes, such as capital projects, will be credited toward reducing the $7.98 million deficit the county carries on its fiscal books.

The deficit would be reduced to $5.88 million with the capital transfer and $7.38 million without it.

Council Vice Chairman Tim McGinley has argued the capital fund needs an infusion because it contains $1.2 million and will be down to $1.05 million if council votes Tuesday to apply $150,000 to help complete prison shower renovations requested for safety and water efficiency purposes.

Councilman Rick Williams has voiced support for applying the entire $2.1 million toward deficit reduction, saying clearing the deficit to build a positive reserve also is an important goal.

Council members did not debate the capital transfer at length when the ordinance was introduced Dec. 12 because the agenda was packed with other items, including the 2018 budget adoption.

The proposed ordinance to transfer the funds is bundled with two other capital fund changes — spending the additional money on the prison shower project and moving $211,000 in extra workers’ compensation funds into the capital fund. The $211,000 was not part of the $2.1 million surplus.

At Williams’ request, the proposals may be separated into three ordinances. He said they are different issues that should be weighed individually.

A public hearing required for the proposed capital fund changes will be held before the voting session.

Also up for a vote Tuesday is Councilman Harry Haas’ proposed ordinance saying both the county and county Redevelopment Authority shall provide administrative and legal assistance to a county committee that is compiling a blighted property database.

Council’s 2016 ordinance establishing the blight committee said the authority would provide the panel with administrative and legal help, but the authority has declined to provide such assistance due to staffing issues. Instead, the authority agreed to provide the county with $15,000 in 2018 as reimbursement for office supplies, advertising and services of the county council clerk and an assistant county solicitor.

Due to the ordinance conflict, a council majority rejected the $15,000 in the final 2018 budget, which placed the committee in limbo.

Haas can seek an amendment restoring the funding in the county budget down the road if a council majority agrees to alter the ordinance as he has proposed. However, a few council members have expressed resistance to the use of county staff and a concern the authority won’t cover costs if they exceed $15,000.

By Jennifer Learn-Andes

If you go

Luzerne County Council will hold a public hearing on proposed ordinances at 5:45 p.m. Tuesday in the county courthouse on River Street in Wilkes-Barre. A voting meeting will follow.

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

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