Last updated: November 03. 2013 10:52PM - 7247 Views
By - jandes@timesleader.com

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As Luzerne County government officials wrestle with a proposed 2014 tax hike and layoffs, the administration has released a snapshot of the average salaries in several departments.

The highest average — $51,000 — was at the prison, which has 301 employees.

The averages in some other offices or divisions, along with the number of workers factored into the equation: district attorney’s, $46,600, 61 employees; courts, $46,400, 291; controller’s, $46,200, 5; solicitor’s, $45,200, 16; public defender’s, $41,400, 34; administrative services, $40,800, 45; human services, $36,200, 392; and budget/finance, $34,000, 38.

• During the first 2014 public budget work session last week, county Manager Robert Lawton reminded council his budget presentation a year ago had been postponed due to Hurricane Sandy.

“I think we are trying to work our way out of a similar fiscal storm now that’s gone on for a much longer period of time,” he said as he laid out his proposal for an 8-percent tax increase blamed largely on the need to repay inherited debt.

• Voters will choose the next county controller and five of 11 county council members Tuesday.

Two significant election-night changes will be in effect: New software will be used to report election results and results will be tallied at the county’s Penn Place Building at the corner of Market Street and Pennsylvania Avenue in Wilkes-Barre instead of the courthouse.

The election office will post a link to the new election results site on the county website, www.luzernecounty.org.

• Council is set to vote on the 2014 budget Dec. 10, but the plan is not necessarily a done deal. The county’s home rule charter gives council the power to amend the budget and tax rate before Feb. 15 in the years after council elections.

• The five-person county Flood Protection Authority that oversees the Wyoming Valley Levee could lose two veteran board members the end of this year — Councilman Stephen A. Urban and Planning/Zoning Director Adrian Merolli.

Urban, who joined the board when he became a county commissioner before home rule in 2000, is in an authority seat that expires the end of the year.

Merolli, who started working for the county in 1972, is retiring the end of this year. Merolli has been on the board since the authority’s creation in 1996. It’s unclear if he would consider serving after his retirement.

The county and authority are in a legal disagreement over whether the board should consist of five citizens or retain the original structure, which includes the planning/zoning director and assistant county engineer. Three citizens now serve with Urban and Merolli.

• Rick Morelli urged his council colleagues last week to come up with “creative ideas” to generate revenue in the cash-strapped county, mentioning an inquiry he received from an outside entity interested in paying the county to timber on county-owned land. He said every idea will have pros and cons, but officials have to “think out of the box.”

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