After canceling and retooling projects, Luzerne County Manager C. David Pedri scraped together $4.87 million in capital funding for future work.
The capital plan he sent to county council Thursday proposes spending $3.6 million of these funds, which are all that’s left from past county borrowing. The remaining $1.26 million would be kept in reserve.
Among the projects that lost funding under Pedri’s plan: $1.8 million to scan a combined four decades of civil court records, wills and estate files to make them available online; $1 million for a new Division Street Bridge over Solomon Creek in Wilkes-Barre; $200,000 for atrium renovations at the county’s human service building on Pennsylvania Avenue in Wilkes-Barre; and $400,000 to demolish the former juvenile detention center off River Street in Wilkes-Barre.
The detention demolition is unnecessary because council members are discussing keeping or selling the building. Pedri’s plan keeps a $160,000 allocation for environmental abatement, although bids indicate that work should cost $100,000.
Pedri said staffers will attempt to complete the record scanning project in-house.
“I’d love to do the atrium and back scanning, but those projects are for another day,” Pedri said. “We have to look at our priorities and make sure necessary projects are completed, not just things we hope and dream for.”
He proposes spending $3.6 million on the following:
• Buy and install a pole building on Tannery Street in Wilkes-Barre to store emergency equipment, $84,500
• Brick and masonry repointing, roof repairs and other work at the voter machine warehouse on Water Street, $250,000
• Roof replacement at the Penn Place building on Pennsylvania Avenue, $600,000
• Painting, exterior window resealing and carpet and service counter replacement at the courthouse annex on River Street, $50,000
• Reconfiguration of the courthouse west entrance to improve security screening and reduce congestion, which will require the relocation of the mapping/GIS and accounts payable offices, $50,000
• Creation of a public access area at the new record storage building in Hanover Township, $500,000
• Lighting and floor improvements at the record storage building, $200,000
• Three projects at the county prison on Water Street — repairs to an elevator involved in the deaths of a corrections officer and inmate in July, $70,000; new doors to improve security, $600,000; and security door control panel replacement, $100,000
Pedri also proposes a $1.1 million allocation for interior restoration at the historic courthouse to repair unstable plaster, conserve artwork, clean marble finishes and complete other repairs requiring scaffolding.
The capital plan already had included another $970,000 for this work. Bids for the restoration are due June 20.
“We have to keep up this building so it can be enjoyed by generations,” Pedri said.
His new plan retains earmarks for numerous projects that are in the works, including $175,000 for fire alarm system upgrades in all county facilities, a $204,000 roof replacement at the county-owned Broad Street Exchange building in downtown Hazleton, a $150,000 county website redesign and a $140,000 network fiber enhancement.
The plan also keeps $100,000 in funding for a new fuel tank at the county-owned Wyoming Valley Airport in Forty Fort and $1 million for road repairs and replacements, although Pedri said these expenditures are on hold while alternate funding is explored.
Pedri’s additional record storage building allocations would push the project beyond the initial anticipated $1.45 million to acquire and remodel the structure. However, Pedri noted the county coroner’s office, which is now housed in the building, is contributing approximately $250,000 to offset the expense.
The current capital plan earmarked $850,000 to improve 911 public safety tower sites and radio communication, but the new one does not address an estimated $19.26 million emergency 911 radio communications system overhaul.
A consultant has said the switch from an analog to digital system is crucial because the radio transmitters and receivers that allow emergency responders to exchange messages will become obsolete in 2020. Officials have said it’s highly unlikely any state funding will help pay for the switch.
Pedri said the administration will aggressively seek grants and other outside funding this year.
“This is a major issue we expect to tackle in full in 2018,” Pedri said.
It’s unclear when county officials will be willing and able to borrow again because the county still owes approximately $325 million through 2028 and is carrying a deficit pegged at $9.4 million at the end of 2015. The status of the deficit will be divulged in the 2016 audit slated for release June 30.
County officials also eventually must discuss other capital needs not in the plan, including an energy efficiency project with a cost that has not been tallied and a new prison, Pedri said. The county’s electronic voting machines also are more than a decade old and could cost millions to replace if the federal government doesn’t chip in again, officials have said.
In addition to the $770,000 in new prison repairs, the current capital plan earmarks $615,000 for two pending projects to renovate the facility showers and improve security in the lobby area.
“We’re putting nearly $1.4 million in a facility that by all accounts everybody knows is an old facility, but this is what we need to do to keep our corrections officers and inmates safe and secure,” Pedri said. “We have to discuss a new prison at some point in the future.”