Luzerne County Council will hold its final 2014 public budget work session at 6 tonight in the county’s West Side Annex at the Wyoming Valley Airport in Forty Fort.
The budget as presented includes an 8-percent tax hike, and an estimated 200 staff cuts would be required if a council majority does not approve the full increase at the Dec. 10 final adoption.
Council members will receive detailed scenarios tonight on the impact of layoffs if there is no tax hike or taxes are raised in various increments less than 8 percent, said council Chairman Tim McGinley. Council members can’t formally vote on options at the work session but are free to discuss which proposal they will accept, he said.
Proposed budget amendments also should be presented tonight so the public has an opportunity to weigh in on changes before final adoption, McGinley said. For example, council will discuss a proposal to fund a new secretary in the Public Defender’s Office, which would require a corresponding reduction in another budget line.
• Council’s Strategic Initiatives Committee agreed last week to examine a recent proposal from tax-claim operator Northeast Revenue Service LLC that would allow tax-delinquent, low-income property owners to remain in their homes in exchange for liens attached to their primary residences. The county would then collect the outstanding debt when the property is sold or passed to heirs.
• Alan Nice, a 10-year county security guard, approached council at last week’s meeting with a suggestion on increasing revenue: charging for public parking at the Water Street parkade near the courthouse. Nice said periodic checks have revealed that many of the motorists using the parkade are students attending nearby King’s College — not courthouse customers.
Nice also referred to the county’s efforts to obtain concessions from employees. If sacrifices are expected, they should be across-the-board among all unions and workers, not just one group, he said. Nice said he believes his rank-and-file residual union is always the hardest hit.
• The public is invited to the courthouse tree-lighting ceremony at 5:30 p.m. Friday in the rotunda.
• Council postponed a vote on bylaw changes designed to get to the voting part of council meetings faster. The changes included moving council comment to the end of meetings.
Tuesday’s meeting started at 6:30 p.m., and Councilman Jim Bobeck noted it was already 7:40 p.m. by the time it was his turn to say something. Bobeck said he wanted to speak but would not because he didn’t want to put off audience members waiting to discuss matters up for a vote.
Councilman Rick Morelli said all council members have been guilty of grandstanding at times and revived his call for committees and work sessions to hash out background information and questions so voting meetings would move faster.
• Former county controller Walter Griffith told council last week he was taken aback by Councilwoman Elaine Maddon Curry’s recent accusation he was seeking publicity with his claim of millions of dollars of “fluff” still in the county’s proposed 2014 budget.
“If anyone thinks that’s why I’m here, God bless you all,” Griffith said, adding he has had enough headlines in recent months to last a lifetime.
Griffith said the salaries in the job position roster and proposed budget don’t match up and said he and taxpayer Ed Chesnovitch went to court several years ago to successfully reduce the amount of money the county could borrow. He said Maddon Curry and other council members who complain about inherited debt did nothing to try to stop past administrations from borrowing.