Luzerne County $5 vehicle fee ordinance up for introduction Tuesday

By Jennifer Learn-Andes - jandes@timesleader.com
Luzerne County Courthouse -

After two prior work session discussions, Luzerne County Council is set to vote Tuesday on whether to introduce an ordinance implementing a controversial $5 vehicle fee to fund county-owned road and bridge repairs.

Four of 11 council votes are required for an ordinance introduction. To take effect, the change would require a public hearing and majority council approval at a subsequent meeting.

The $5 fee on 281,000 vehicles would yield an estimated $1.4 million annually to repair the county’s 304 bridges and approximately 128 miles of county roads. Around 60 percent of county bridges — 182 of them — have cracks, erosion or other evidence of deterioration that must be repaired to meet current standards, officials have said.

• Some council and citizen fee critics have questioned what state highway and bridge repairs have been funded through gasoline tax increases that have boosted the state’s tax on gas to 58 cents per gallon.

During their April 10 meeting, council members asked a state Department of Transportation representative to prepare a synopsis on gas tax spending. Council Chairman Tim McGinley said Friday he has not yet received that report.

• Hazleton resident Mark Rabo, a frequent county meeting attendee and vehicle fee opponent, said he logged gas prices on his work-related trip last week and found lower prices and better maintained roads and bridges.

Gas was $2.55 per gallon in Youngstown, Ohio; $2.65 per gallon in South Bend, Indiana; and $2.49 per gallon outside Madison, Wisconsin, Rabo said.

In comparison, the range of lowest prices was $2.84 to $2.89 per gallon in Wilkes-Barre, according to online sites.

• Tuesday’s council meeting starts at 6 p.m. at the courthouse in Wilkes-Barre.

• A ceremony is scheduled at 5 p.m. before the meeting in the rotunda to commend three employees marking their 40th year of county employment: Jim Davis and John Leighton from the domestic relations department and Jonathan Blum from the public defender’s office.

• A pre-meeting public hearing will be held at 5:30 p.m. on Councilwoman Linda McClosky Houck’s proposed ordinance requiring segregated budget tracking of all contracts or obligations that would cost the county more than $25,000 in one year or $75,000 in two or more years.

County Manager C. David Pedri strongly opposed the proposal, maintaining it would overburden staff and could interfere with his freedom under home rule to execute contracts each year as long as they don’t exceed budgeted funds. McClosky Houck disagreed and said the ordinance would enhance council’s analysis of how budgeted funds would be spent.

Council is set to vote on this ordinance at its 6 p.m. session. Only four council members supported its introduction.

• Citing health reasons, David Capin has resigned from the county Convention Center Authority, which oversees the Mohegan Sun Arena in Wilkes-Barre Township. Council is set to declare a vacancy Tuesday.

Nine citizens are on an eligibility list for consideration to fill the unpaid seat, county records show: Joseph Bonick, Joseph Cotter, Neal DeAngelo, Rodney Kaiser, Alexander Milanes, David Palermo, Barry Payne, James Reino and Amanda Yakus.

• A Greater Wilkes-Barre Chamber of Commerce request to pay $3.4 million in loan and real estate tax principal and receive forgiveness for $751,715 in penalties and interest has been removed from Tuesday’s voting agenda. County officials said the chamber requested removal because it is exploring a second potential purchase offer for the properties involved in this transaction.

• Council also may decide to address the administration’s requests for a $150,000 budget transfer and proposed contract extension with human resources management company ADP. Council had tabled a vote on the budget transfer ordinance, and the matter has been heavily debated, with heated arguments both for and against it.

Luzerne County Courthouse
https://www.psdispatch.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/web1_web1_luzerne-county-courthouse-1-1.jpgLuzerne County Courthouse

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.