Luzerne County Council suspends bailout benefits

A majority of Luzerne County Council voted against two U.S. bailout allocations on Tuesday, with some saying such decisions would have to wait until Randy Robertson begins work as the county’s new executive.

Robertson said he expected to be in the county the week of June 13.

Allocations that were not accepted were $168,100 for PFM Group Consulting LLC to complete a new 10-year financial plan for the county and $254,706 for Booth Management Consulting, based in Columbia, Maryland, to provide advice and assistance in the administration of the county’s US bailout awards.

The six board members voting against both allocations: Carl Bienias III, Kevin Lescavage, LeeAnn McDermott, Brian Thornton, Stephen J. Urban, and Gregory Wolovich Jr.

Related video

Councilman John Lombardo voted against the PFM allocation but supported Booth Management’s.

Council members Tim McGinley and Chris Perry voted for both.

Council Chair Kendra Radle was absent on Tuesday, and the remaining council seat was declared vacant at the meeting because former member Robert Schnee was sworn in as state representative in Harrisburg earlier in the meeting. daytime.

Thornton said he thought completing another long-term financial plan was a “great idea,” but he wanted Robertson to step in. He noted that Robertson had a master’s degree in strategic planning and should be consulted before the expense was authorized.

Another US bailout – $500,000 for the Hazleton Land Bank, which reduces the blight – was approved by a majority of the board on Tuesday.

Council previously filed a decision due to concerns raised about the initial steps taken by the land bank in its early stages.

Thornton said he later received the documents he requested from the land bank from the county’s acting chief prosecutor, Harry W. Skene. Thornton said he wanted to make sure the county wouldn’t have a problem when its allocations were audited by the state and federal government, and Skene said he was confident the land bank was complying with all the regulations in force. Thornton compared the initial land banking problems to “growing pains”.

Lombardo agreed with Thornton’s assessment and said he and other board members promised to reduce the burn.

McDermott and Perry said they were okay.

Urban, Wolovich, and Lescavage voted against the attribution. Urban said he still had issues with protocols not being followed when the land bank was established.

Prior to the new $500,000 allocation, the board had approved $15.4 million in American rescue allocations, leaving $97.5 million. Those earlier allocations included $500,000 for the North East Pennsylvania Land Bank Authority, which is focused on blight reduction in several municipalities in the Pittston area.

The county doesn’t have to commit to a US bailout package until the end of 2024 and has until the end of 2026 to spend the money.

Vacant Board Seat

While the board declared Schnee’s seat vacant, board members were unsure when the opening would be publicly announced as it did not vote on whether it would be filled by a Republican or Democrat until 2023. .

Schnee was elected Democrat in 2019 but later changed his registration to Republican. The County Home Rule Charter states that the appointee “must be a member of the same political party as the person to whom he or she is to succeed and must have been a member of that party continuously from the time the person whose office is to to be filled was the most recently elected or appointed to the position.

Skene concluded that Schnee’s replacement had to be a Republican dating back to November 2019, when Schnee was elected, based on the language of the charter.

Speaking in public comments, county Democratic committee chairwoman Kathy Bozinski urged the council to select a Democrat, saying party resources had been invested in electing her as a Democrat.

“I humbly ask all council members to view this as supporting the will of the people. This is not a period of partisanship,” Bozinski said.

Litigation

The council voted unanimously against a $55,000 payment to settle a 2020 libel lawsuit that County Electoral Officer Shelby Watchilla filed against the county and County Comptroller Walter Griffith at the following statements he made when he was a county councillor.

With the settlement rejected, arbitration of the dispute will continue, board members said.

James V. Hayes