Elevator updates and a rear Luzerne County Courthouse entrance reconfiguration can proceed, but a controversial payroll processing contract was put on hold, county council decided this week.
A combined $275,000 is needed for the two approved projects — $125,000 in elevator work at the Penn Place and domestic relations buildings and $150,000 in office relocations and construction to reduce congestion and improve security screening at the courthouse basement entrance.
The money will come from a Penn Place roof replacement project that came in $297,500 under budget.
Council members Linda McClosky Houck, Harry Haas and Stephen A. Urban questioned the urgency of the projects and argued the requests should be weighed as part of the next upcoming capital projects budget the administration must submit June 1. Councilman Edward Brominski also voted against the request.
Haas said council should collectively review all capital needs at the same time because the demand for projects far exceeds available funding that may soon dwindle to nothing.
Urban said he believes security and safety arguments are being used to create the appearance of an emergency situation that does not exist, noting the county already provides extensive security while visitors can still walk into some public municipal buildings without undergoing any screening.
County Manager C. David Pedri said he considers both projects emergencies because they will address safety concerns pointed out by an elevator consultant and the sheriff. Waiting for the next capital plan is an issue because council has until Sept. 1 to adopt it, he said.
Some of the six other council members approving the projects said the administration provided convincing justification for the work and that they were uneasy delaying it.
Council Vice Chairman Eugene Kelleher said he would feel “terrible guilt” if something bad happened due to deferral of the work.
Haas unsuccessfully sought to table the matter.
He had proposed a separate ordinance to move the $297,500 roof savings into a capital fund reserve. However, he withdrew that motion because a written ordinance he had previously requested from the solicitor’s office was not in the meeting packet.
Chief Solicitor Romilda Crocamo said Friday her office had prepared the draft ordinance as requested by Haas and submitted it to the council clerk to include in the agenda packet. She said her office will now provide copies of such drafts to council members who request them so the council members will have ownership of making sure they are part of the agenda.
The payroll software request involves a contract with human resources management company ADP.
The administration had signed a contract with the company in June and paid the initial $175,000 implementation expense last year. A $150,000 transfer from the 2018 budget reserve was requested to cover ADP costs through this year.
The program would replace the county’s labor-intensive paper system and allow employees to access their pay data online, the administration has said.
However, some council members and citizens have questioned the need for the additional expenditure and the administration’s decision to proceed with the contract without council approval.
The county’s home rule charter said the manager must obtain council approval for contracts or obligations costing $25,000 in any future calendar year for which no budget has been adopted.
The administration has said the project plans were publicly discussed and that the county is not locked into an obligation to keep ADP if the expenditure is not funded by council in 2018.
McClosky Houck, who has been highly critical of the contract and lack of prior council approval, said council members who support the ADP concept can shelve the request until the administration presents a promised ADP contract renewal to council before June.
In addition to McClosky Houck, six council members supported tabling the ADP funding request: Brominski, Haas, Robert Schnee, Urban, Matthew Vough and Jane Walsh Waitkus.
Voting against the tabling were Kelleher, Tim McGinley, Christopher Perry and Sheila Saidman.
Reach Jennifer Learn-Andes at 570-991-6388 or on Twitter @TLJenLearnAndes.