Acting Luzerne County Manager C. David Pedri highlighted the county’s progress tackling inherited debt during a Thursday morning breakfast meeting hosted by the Hazleton Chamber of Commerce.
County officials faced outstanding principal and interest totaling $421 million when the home rule government took effect in January 2012, he said.
“I’m proud to say today, in just over four years of the new home rule government, we paid down over $100 million in county debt,” Pedri told the community and business leaders gathered at Theodora’s in Butler Township.
The county also has been completing “unqualified ” audits that are more thorough and meet generally accepted accounting standards under home rule.
All county contracts, public information requests and budgets also are posted online as part of home rule’s promise to bring more transparency to county government, he said.
“We have nothing to hide,” Pedri said.
The first more than four years of home rule were focused on setting up new structures and clearing up past problems, he said.
“We are currently in act two of Luzerne County’s home rule government,” Pedri said. “Now we show where we’re going to go. Now we show what this government can really do.”
Pedri, a county chief solicitor who has been serving as acting manager since Jan. 4, said the county is “lucky” to have a stable property tax base that has not sustained significant losses.
Identifying alternative revenue is a top priority, said Pedri, who has applied for the top manager position. For example, the administration has generated revenue by selling unused real estate holdings and also unclaimed weapons that had been seized in past protection-from-abuse cases, he said.
“We’re looking under every rock. We’re shaking every tree we possibly can,” Pedri said. “It’s outside-the-box thinking that’s going to get us there, and not just the old tax-and-spend mentality.”
Improving customer service is another priority because the county exists to provide public services, he said.
He said he plans more signs and education about accessing county services and is setting up a private location so distressed residents filing protection-from-abuse complaints don’t have to fill out paperwork in a hallway.
Pedri also set 90-day goals in all departments and will publicly announce new 90-day goals when those are completed in May to hold staffers accountable, he said.
“I found in any government everybody likes to talk, but there’s not a lot of getting things done and actually implementing the ideas to really move forward,” he said.
A Butler Township resident, Pedri said he grew up in Hazleton and understands the perception that the county’s southern half is ignored by the county seat in Wilkes-Barre. He also encouraged the audience to get involved by applying for vacant seats on county authorities, boards and commissions.
“Hazleton will not be a forgotten city,” he said.