Luzerne County authority officials say they still need veteran engineer as consultant

By Jennifer Learn-Andes - jandes@timesleader.com
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Prior Luzerne County Flood Protection Authority executive director Jim Brozena is still working as an authority consultant, but officials said his services are needed and largely reimbursed by outside government funding.

The issue came up this week because the authority, which oversees the Wyoming Valley Levee, voted to extend its contract with Brozena Consulting Services LLC in West Pittston to Dec. 31, 2020, and increase the cap from $60,000 to $120,000.

This cap is a running total covering payments since the company was first retained by the authority in February 2013, not an annual amount.

To date, the company has been paid $73,981 since 2013, invoices show.

Of that, 73 percent, or $53,698, of the payments were fully or partially reimbursed by the state or federal government because the assignments were related to buyouts and other hazard mitigation lingering from the levee-raising project and last year’s removal of the dilapidated Coxton Railroad Bridge over the Susquehanna River.

The lion’s share of the remaining work, $17,212, was for Brozena’s expertise in a court challenge that had been filed over a fee that funds levee maintenance and oversight, invoices show.

Authority Chairman Kevin O’Brien said the contract, after reimbursement, was not costing the authority a lot of money, and he stressed Brozena routinely provides valuable flood control assistance at no cost, including help during a recent ice jam.

Richard Adams, who was appointed by county council to the five-member authority board in January, cast the lone vote against the contract extension.

“It’s a lot of money guys. Don’t fool yourself,” Adams said during Tuesday’s authority board meeting.

Authority Executive Director Christopher Belleman said outside technical assistance is sometimes warranted because he is the only engineer on staff, particularly since county officials wanted the authority to move out of the county engineering office and become a standalone entity with its own office and staff in 2015.

Brozena retired in January 2013 to start a consulting business after 33 years overseeing the authority and serving as a county engineer.

Hiring a staff engineer would be far more expensive with the salary and benefits, Belleman said. The $120,000 cap won’t be reached unless necessary, and Brozena Consulting’s original fee of $125 per hour is unchanged, he said.

“There are only 11 workers at the authority, and I’m the only technical resource. I can’t do everything by myself. I stay here late and come in on the weekends,” Belleman told the authority.

He estimated the consulting contract costs the authority an average $6,000 to $7,000 annually if the special Coxton bridge and levee fee trial assignments are deducted.

Brozena, who was not at the meeting, said he did not seek out the contract or extensions and was asked by authority representatives to provide assistance.

The authority has requested Brozena’s help because he has unique familiarity with the levee project and mitigation work, he said.

As part of the levee-raising project, Luzerne and several other counties along the Susquehanna have access to millions of dollars for buyouts and other flood reduction measures in communities that are not levee protected, he said. Brozena said he is in the process of training an authority staffer on mitigation protocol and regulations to end reliance on his services.

“My whole goal is to go away,” said Brozena. “I am certainly doing other work. This is not my primary focus.”

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https://www.psdispatch.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/web1_brozena-2.jpgBrozena

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.