While making his case to hire a lobbying firm, Luzerne County Manager C. David Pedri pointed to the county’s recent request for $1 million in casino gambling funding for its countywide 911 emergency radio upgrade project.
In addition to extensive information presented by the county’s grant writer, Pedri said he spent many hours pushing for the $1 million by rounding up support letters from state legislators and personally requesting backing from the governor’s office and legislators.
The county ended up receiving $330,000.
“We are very, very grateful, but I saw what has to be done to fully advocate for these grants,” Pedri told council on Tuesday as members discussed the possibility of voting at a future meeting to hire Harrisburg-based Maverick Strategies for $5,000 per month to identify resources and grants that could benefit the county.
Pedri had previously said the county’s request for $1 million should receive priority and stand out amid intense competition because the upgrade improves public safety for all residents in the entire county.
In addition to converting from 20-year-old analog radios to digital ones, the project includes communication tower improvements and other enhancements to beef up radio coverage and reception in areas that have experienced signal issues, county 911 Executive Director Fred Rosencrans said.
Estimated at $20 million, the project’s firm cost will be known when vendor proposals are submitted July 15.
Although it’s too late for more casino funding this year, Pedri said Maverick could help push for approval of another $2 million in fire department grant requests through another program to fund new radio equipment, which would reduce the county’s cost for the upgrade project.
The county also has another $750,000 in outstanding grant requests submitted to state agencies for other projects, Pedri told council, listing 13 other counties and three cities that have used lobbyists.
“What I have found is having a clear, concise and consistent presence in Harrisburg is required in order for us to be competitive on these grants and in order for us to be competitive on state funding and on federal funding,” Pedri said, emphasizing he appreciates support he has received from legislators and is not “disparaging” them.
The lobbyist could “pay for itself” by securing awards, he said.
Councilman Stephen A. Urban said it’s the job of legislators to “work for the people of this county” to prioritize and secure funding for important projects, and he does not believe the county should be forced to hire a lobbying firm. He questioned whether the firm would provide campaign donations or meals to sway legislators.
Councilwoman Linda McClosky Houck concurred, saying legislators should be providing the “face-to-face” contact at the state level in response to worthy projects pitched by the county manager and council.
To help in the decision, Councilman Robert Schnee requested examples of funding lobbyists have secured for smaller counties.
Councilwoman Sheila Saidman said she will contact some state legislators to obtain their feedback on the effectiveness of lobbyists.
Two citizens criticized the proposal during public comment.
Brian Shiner said the county does not need a lobbyist in addition to a grant writer and described the lobbyist process as “legalized bribery.” Sam Troy questioned why the county can’t step up lobbying efforts in-house.
Reach Jennifer Learn-Andes at 570-991-6388 or on Twitter @TLJenLearnAndes.