Luzerne County-owned property off limits for Coal Street project, proposed resolution says

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

An official resolution declaring that Luzerne County’s human services property at 111 N. Pennsylvania Ave. in Wilkes-Barre is not available for sale has been added to Tuesday’s council work session for discussion.

At least three and possibly all four of the county-owned parcels at this site would be needed for the city’s plans to extend Coal Street to Pennsylvania Avenue, the proposed resolution said.

The city cannot seize the county parking lot through eminent domain for the extension because it is owned by another government entity, several officials have said.

County Councilman Stephen A. Urban had urged his colleagues to vote now on whether they’d be willing to give up the property because a decision against selling could be presented in a pending court action over the Coal Street project.

The city is legally challenging disbursement of $2.9 million left from a tax diversion program, arguing the money must be left intact to cover the Coal Street extension. The county, Wilkes-Barre Area School District and Wilkes-Barre Township disagree and say they’re entitled to receive what’s left of their sacrificed funds because all required program projects have been completed.

• A proposed three-year contract with Microsoft Corp. also is up for discussion at the work session, which follows a 6 p.m. voting meeting at the courthouse on River Street in Wilkes-Barre.

The county would pay $1.328 million from July 2018 through June 2021 for software acquisition and operating system licensing, according to the agenda posted on the council page at www.luzernecounty.org.

The contract is necessary to increase compatibility between workstations and services and keep costs “low and predictable,” the agenda says. This year’s portion of the expense was included in the 2018 budget, it said.

Instead of buying desktop personal computers already loaded with software, the county in 2015 switched to devices known as “thin clients” that hook up to monitors and retrieve data and updated software stored on central servers.

• The county administration also is seeking council authority to enter into a contract with UGI Energy Services to lock in fixed rates for natural gas.

The current price UGI would charge the county is $3.053 per dekatherm (dth). County Operational Services Division Head Edmund O’Neill said UGI would provide an updated price — it may be the same, higher or lower — the day council votes, which could be May 22 if council is amenable to the idea at Tuesday’s work session.

A contract would eliminate the risk of increased pricing during periods of extreme weather and high demand, O’Neill said in his submission.

• Hazleton Public Transit’s request for $163,298 in county funding also is on the work session agenda. The match allows the agency to obtain $2.05 million in state funding for the 2018-19 fiscal year.

• After weeks of discussion and debate, council is set to decide on a proposed $5 vehicle fee during Tuesday’s voting meeting.

A public hearing on the proposed fee ordinance will be held before the meeting at 5:45 p.m.

The fee on 281,000 vehicles would yield an estimated $1.4 million annually to repair county-owned roads and bridges. The state will match up to $2 million to fix bridges in each county with a $5 fee, but only once.

As promised, the agenda includes Councilman Robert Schnee’s amended version of the proposed fee ordinance automatically ending the fee if the state stops providing a match.

• The county election board approved two polling place changes last week in Avoca and Pittston.

Avoca Ward 2 and 3 voters will now cast their ballots at the Queen of Apostles Hall, 742 Spring St. The former borough building used by Ward 2 is set for demolition, and the prior Ward 3 location at the Avoca Community Center had insufficient parking, officials said.

In Pittston, Ward 2 and 3 voters must now report to the Pittston Memorial Library’s JP Cosgrove Center, 47 Broad St. The prior Ward 2 location at St. John’s Church Hall had accessibility issues for the disabled, and Pittston City Hall can’t be used for Ward 3 due to ongoing building renovations, officials said.

The Luzerne County Courthouse.
https://www.psdispatch.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/web1_web1_luzerne-county-courthouse-1.jpgThe Luzerne County Courthouse.
Council to consider refusing to sell property for extension

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.