Last updated: June 16. 2014 11:06PM - 701 Views
By - jandes@civitasmedia.com

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Three proposed Luzerne County home rule charter revisions are on tonight’s county council work session agenda.

The suggested charter modifications will appear on the November election ballot if a council majority approves them. They involve budget amendments, restrictions for citizens serving on county boards and authorities, and the composition of the ethics commission and election board.

A fourth suggested revision involving tax collection was removed because a council committee decided that change could be addressed by amending the county’s administrative code, which would not require voter approval.

The proposed budget change would require at least six of 11 council votes to reopen and potentially amend the budget and tax rate before Feb. 15 in the years following council elections.

Under the current charter wording, budget amendments are treated as other ordinances that can be introduced with as few as four council votes.

The change was prompted by proposed budget amendments this year that held up the mailing of tax bills and did not ultimately pass. The new requirement would stop council from “wasting time” on amendments that don’t have majority support, Councilman Jim Bobeck has said.

Supporters of the option to reopen the budget have said the administration should expect and prepare for the possibility of delayed tax revenue in the years after council elections.

The amendment addressing restrictions for serving on outside boards would give council the power to evaluate and decide if an applicant’s disclosed employment or compensation relationship will impact his or her “independence and impartiality” if that person is appointed to a specific board.

The charter says members of county boards and authorities can’t be employed or compensated by any individual or business serving as a contractor to the county or its boards and authorities.

Councilman Rick Williams proposed the amendment, saying the charter ban is too restrictive and has forced council to reject some viable applicants for unpaid seats.

His proposal requires applicants to disclose restrictions in writing before an appointment is made. The council chair also must publicly read disclosure statements from nominated applicants and provide the public an opportunity to comment before an appointment is made, the suggested amendment says.

Charter drafters said the ban was intended to prevent past nepotism and conflicts of interest in appointments.

The final proposed change, also from Williams, would allow council to appoint registered voters who are not Democratic or Republican to the county election board and ethics commission.

State law allows some minor charter tweaking, though the government structure can’t be significantly altered until the charter completes its five-year anniversary in January 2017, county officials say.

The tax collection amendment would have forced the county to seek proposals from entities interested in collecting county real estate taxes and require council to approve a contract with the lowest responsible bidder.

The council work session starts at 5:30 p.m. in the council meeting room at the courthouse. The agenda is posted on the council section of the county website, www.luzernecounty.org.

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