Luzerne County Council advances manager residency requirement

By Jennifer Learn-Andes - | February 23rd, 2016 10:35 pm

By Jennifer Learn-Andes

An ordinance requiring future Luzerne County government managers to live in the county appears to have majority county council support.

Eight of 11 council members voted Tuesday to introduce the ordinance. It must receive a second vote of at least six council members to pass.

Proposed by Councilman Edward Brominski, the ordinance would require managers hired to oversee the county and its departments and divisions to live in the county within three months.

Employees hired before the ordinance takes effect would not be subject to the requirement.

Council members Rick Williams, Harry Haas and Tim McGinley voted against the ordinance introduction. Williams and Haas said they don’t want to disqualify viable applicants who live in the county’s outskirts.

Councilman Stephen A. Urban said the ordinance makes sense because county managers should not be in an adjacent county when they are needed to respond to emergencies and other issues.

The ordinance is not “unreasonable” because newly hired employees won’t be required to purchase property in the county, said Councilwoman Kathy Dobash. Rental properties qualify as residences.

The council also voted Tuesday to remove $605,000 from the capital projects reserve to fund the settlement of litigation involving a past courthouse restoration project and an elevator generator replacement at the county-owned Broad Street Exchange building in downtown Hazleton.

The deduction will leave about $3.5 million in the reserve from extensive past borrowing. The county may not be in a position to borrow more to cover capital needs for many years.

County acting Manager C. David Pedri presented a lengthy annual state-of-the-county report outlining plans to improve customer service and highlighting pending projects and both 90-day and long-term goals in each division.

For example, the assessor’s office pledges to complete its review of unwarranted homestead tax break recipients within 90 days, Pedri said. The office has been reviewing a list of thousands of property owners since July to determine if they received breaks beyond the allowable one on a primary residence.

County officials declared that property owners who wrongly received county breaks will be expected to repay the county, but not until the assessor’s office sends and processes letters requesting documentation from those flagged as questionable recipients.

Pedri also informed the council the prison administration was forced to house 15 female inmates in Clinton County due to overcrowding.

The number of female inmates has been rising in recent years. Females are lodged on the fourth floor of the Water Street prison, which can hold up to 90 females.

The county must pay $70 per day for each inmate housed in Clinton County. The county’s 2015 and 2016 budgets both earmarked around $547,000 for outside inmate housing, but prison administrators managed to shuffle around inmates to avoid tapping this funding last year.

Pedri told the council he and other officials are closely monitoring the situation aiming to return the 15 females to the county prison as soon as possible.

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