Luzerne County Council may weigh in on parking lot needed for Coal Street extension

By Jennifer Learn-Andes - [email protected]
Luzerne County Courthouse -

Luzerne County Council members should vote now on whether they’d be willing to give up a chunk of the county human services building parking lot that Wilkes-Barre would need to extend Coal Street to Pennsylvania Avenue, county Councilman Stephen A. Urban told his colleagues last week.

The city is legally challenging disbursement of $2.9 million left from a tax diversion program, arguing the money must be left intact to cover the Coal Street extension. The county, Wilkes-Barre Area School District and Wilkes-Barre Township disagree and say they’re entitled to receive what’s left of their sacrificed funds because all required program projects have been completed.

The city cannot seize the county parking lot through eminent domain for the extension because it is owned by another government entity, several officials have said.

Approximately 300 county workers from Children and Youth and other human service departments would have nowhere to park if the lot size is drastically reduced, and a lot downsizing also would devalue the county-owned building, county Manager C. David Pedri has said.

A council vote against giving up the lot could be presented in the ongoing litigation, Urban said.

County Chief Solicitor Romilda Crocamo said her office is prepared to draft a resolution if council decides to proceed with his recommendation.

• A new county website launch is still scheduled for May 21, Pedri told council last week.

The new design is “really good,” Pedri said. Managers are undergoing training and working on beefing up the site content, he said.

• A grand opening of the county record storage building and its public access area should be held in September, Pedri said.

The county spent or committed more than $1.9 million to purchase and renovate the former U.S. mail property at 85 Young St. in Hanover Township, ending reliance on a leased building in Wilkes-Barre that was deemed insufficient for record storage.

• As of April 18, the county collected $64.35 million in revenue, or 46 percent of the $138.42 million budgeted in the general fund, according to a report presented last week. Year-to-date spending was $28.68 million.

Real estate tax collections are down — $61 million compared to nearly $66 million during the same period last year.

Budget/Finance Division Head Brian Swetz primarily attributed the decline to Hazle Township’s tax bill mailing delay, which stemmed from a tax collector bonding issue. He said he is confident revenue will get back on schedule because township receipts are now coming in.

• Councilwoman Linda McClosky Houck asked for more division-level detail in the administration’s monthly budget reports during last week’s work session, saying the one-page summaries don’t provide sufficient information.

Swetz said he was planning to reserve more detail for quarterly reports, but Pedri said the administration will honor council’s preference on a report format when it is provided.

• The county is still carrying a deficit on its financial books, even though $4.5 million is in a 2018 budget reserve, Urban noted at the work session.

A permanent reserve with actual money in it can’t be established until the deficit is cleared through year-end surpluses.

The deficit was $8 million the end of 2016, the last audit concluded. In an attempt to further erase the shortfall, a council majority opted to leave $2.1 million from one-time revenue windfalls untouched the end of 2017, so it would be credited as a surplus. The updated deficit balance will be revealed in the next audit due June 30.

After two budget reserve spending requests totaling $399,389 were approved last week, citizen Walter Griffith advised council members to “lock down” the remaining reserve so it can be applied to the deficit.

Luzerne County Courthouse County Courthouse

By Jennifer Learn-Andes

[email protected]

Reach Jennifer Learn-Andes at 570-991-6388 or on Twitter @TLJenLearnAndes.

Reach Jennifer Learn-Andes at 570-991-6388 or on Twitter @TLJenLearnAndes.