Last updated: February 20. 2013 3:14AM - 706 Views

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WILKES-BARRE – City Councilman Tony George on Tuesday asked City Administrator Marie McCormick when the 11 recently furloughed city firefighters will be recalled.

Council approved the 2013 budget that called for a 26 percent hike in property taxes with the understanding that the 11 would return to work, he said.

George brought up the subject when McCormick was explaining the need to re-fund a portion of the city's $10 million bond financing from 2010. You're asking us to approve this, but we still haven't been told when the fire fighters will be called back, he said.

McCormick said she couldn't say when the 11 would be called back. Mayor Tom Leighton did not attend council's work session.

The firefighters were laid off in November as the city administration struggled to resolve a $2 million budget shortfall. George said that the overtime costs he has seen, coupled with the cost of unemployment benefits, make him question the wisdom of the layoffs.

The overtime for December was $54,000-plus and unemployment cost us about $20,000, he said. That's over $75,000. Wouldn't it have been cheaper to not lay off the firefighters?

George noted that adding to the salaries could increase retirement benefits to those firefighters soon retiring. He said that cost would be long-term to the city. We're losing money by having these layoffs, he said.

In other business, council is expected to approve a resolution Thursday to seek funding necessary to pay for the demolition of the condemned former Hotel Sterling.

As part of that process, council will seek an agreement with the Pennsylvania Historic Preservation Office that, if approved, would grant permission to the city to tear down the once-grand hotel.

If the state does not register any formal objections to the demolition, the city will move forward in obtaining the necessary funding to demolish the landmark.

The agreement outlines how the city fulfilled its obligations under the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 and the steps it will take to mitigate any adverse effects. The city plans to salvage certain items and display them at City Hall, while other items would be transferred to the Luzerne County Historical Society.

Once the state approves the agreement, the city then will seek permission from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to use federal money instead of the $232,729 the county committed for the demolition. The city would add the money to the $260,000 in local share gaming account funds it earmarked for the demolition. The low bid received for the demolition came in at $492,000.

The former hotel has been vacant since 1988 and fallen into disrepair.

Council also will consider ordering the 2013 city calendars from Llewellyn & McKane, low bidder, for $8,450.

What's next?

Wilkes-Barre City Council meets in regular session at 6 p.m. Thursday in Council Chambers, fourth floor, City Hall. Public comment is allowed.

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