Luzerne County officials didn’t want to touch $4.1 million left from extensive past borrowing, saying the county may not be in a position to borrow more to cover capital needs for many years.
However, a pressing elevator problem in one county-owned building and the recent settlement of litigation involving courthouse restoration may prompt the council to remove $605,000 from this capital reserve.
Councilman Harry Haas voiced his frustration when the matter was discussed at last week’s council meeting.
“I want to be a real guardian of those funds,” Haas said.
County acting Manager C. David Pedri said he is not treating the request lightly.
“That’s all we have left,” Pedri said, of the capital reserve.
Borrowing for capital projects may be off the table for years because the county still owes more than $320 million in principal and interest on past loans, officials said.
The $230,000 in elevator work is needed at the Broad Street Exchange building at the corner of West Broad and South Laurel streets in Hazleton.
The county took ownership of the former department store, which is almost fully occupied, so the county wouldn’t lose a $1.8 million community development loan when the building was in a tax auction several years ago. The administration pursued a sale of the property last year but did not receive any viable offers, Pedri said.
One of the building’s two elevators stopped working about a month ago due to a problem with the generator, county engineer Larry Plesh told the council last week.
The building’s three upper floors and basement must close if the remaining elevator malfunctions, Plesh said. Luzerne County Community College occupies portions of the third and fourth floors, and the basement houses a food bank, he said.
The $230,000 earmark should cover a new generator for both elevators, with a 25- to 30-year guarantee on the work, he said.
Pedri told the council he was informed that county community development funding cannot be used for the Hazleton property, but he agreed to seek further confirmation before the council votes on the county capital budget change Feb. 23, following a public hearing on the matter.
The other capital reserve expense would fund a $375,000 arbitration settlement with New Jersey-based D.A. Nolt that was unanimously approved by the council last week.
The county’s 2016 general fund operating budget can’t absorb the large, unforeseen expense, Pedri said.
The settlement will close D.A. Nolt’s claim it is owed more than $1.59 million for a courthouse restoration project that wrapped up in 2013 due to costly delays out of the company’s control.
County officials filed their own claim, which is still pending, arguing D.A. Nolt should be on the hook for at least $691,400 in water damages to interior murals and plaster because it did not properly cover the courthouse domes during its work to prevent rain from getting in the building.