Luzerne County committee examining leases

By Jennifer Learn-Andes - jandes@timesleader.com
Walsh Waitkus -

Luzerne County government has 41 leases with outside entities to house county offices, magisterial courts, active adult centers and 911 emergency radio towers, according to a newly compiled list the county administration presented to council’s real estate committee last week.

Another 15 agreements cover county-owned property leased to others.

The committee requested the list, which has been posted under the council committee page at www.luzernecounty.org, to assess whether the leases are necessary and in the county’s best interest.

Feedback from the administration and further review are needed, members said.

“Now that we have our wonderful list, perhaps we can put it to good use and talk about recommendations in the future for making really good use of our county-owned property,” said Councilwoman Jane Walsh Waitkus, who chairs the committee.

Committee member Rick Williams said he has researched and questioned one of the leases on the list involving the county’s upper parking lot across from the county courthouse on River Street in Wilkes-Barre.

Enacted in December 2003, the agreement leased the county-owned lot to King’s College for $10,000 annually in the first decade and locked in two additional five-year renewals. The first renewal, which took effect in December 2013, increased the annual rent to $11,000. The final five years would cost the college $12,000 per year.

Williams said the agreement stands out because it gives the college the right to purchase the lot for fair market value before the final renewal expires in December 2023 — even if the county wants to keep the property.

All terms of the agreement are binding on future parties, the lease said.

“You can thank previous commissioners for that,” Williams said of the lease.

More than 18 leases have expired, and new agreements will be pursued if the county is likely to generate more revenue or save money, the administration said.

For example, the county receives $5 per month from leasing a billboard near the county prison on Water Street in Wilkes-Barre, the list said. County Chief Solicitor Romilda Crocamo said the county is finalizing a new contract to increase that receipt.

A new lease also is in negotiation for Children and Youth office space the county obtains from McCarthy Realty on North State Street in Wilkes-Barre, Crocamo said. The county currently pays McCarthy $25,428 per month for a total 21,874 square feet, the administration’s list said.

Eliminating unnecessary leases remains a priority, said county Manager C. David Pedri, who did not attend the committee meeting. The county saved money by housing both Wilkes-Barre magisterial district judges in the same building and moving the office of District Judge David Barilla from the Swoyersville Borough Building to renovated space in the county-owned Wyoming Valley Airport in Fort Fort, Pedri noted.

Walsh Waitkus
https://www.psdispatch.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/web1_walshCMYK.jpgWalsh Waitkus

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.