Luzerne County: Farmers wanted

By Jennifer Learn-Andes -
Luzerne County Courthouse -

Luzerne County is seeking farmers to lease approximately 146.5 acres of county-owned land in Butler Township for soil cultivation and crop production.

Former Butler Township supervisor Ransom Young had alerted county officials in 2014 that the county had been renting some of the land to family farms since the 1970s without written leases or competitive bidding. Young said at the time the farmers were good stewards and not at fault, but he was raising the issue to ensure the county received maximum revenue.

Council’s real estate committee is set to discuss the matter during its 5:30 p.m. meeting Tuesday at the county courthouse.

According to the committee agenda, the county recently sent letters to impacted farmers encouraging them to submit proposals if they want to continue leasing the land after 2018.

Interested farmers must submit proposals to lease the entire 146.5 acres or a select portion for three years, with three optional one-year extensions. The land is split into three tracts. Proposals would be due April 30.

The county owns about 530 acres in the township, but the Keystone Job Corps Center leases 123 acres for a federally funded, residential education and vocation training program, according to a 50-year lease extension approved by commissioners in 2001.

The county had operated the Kis-Lyn work camp for juvenile delinquents on the property from 1912 to 1965. According to a 1971 article, county officials opted to lease some parcels to farmers at a nominal fee because the land wasn’t needed by Keystone.

• The administration also is exploring the possible purchase of a painting company warehouse at 121 Water St. in Wilkes-Barre, adjacent to the county prison, the real estate committee agenda says.

The warehouse on 0.29 acre is owned by Joseph Dotzel and J-H Smith Co. and assessed at $95,700, property records show.

Real estate purchases require council approval.

• Both citizen seats on the county’s five-member ethics commission are now vacant.

County Manager C. David Pedri, District Attorney Stefanie Salavantis and Controller Michelle Bednar serve on the commission along with two council-appointed citizens, one Democrat and one Republican.

Republican citizen member Christine Seidel did not seek reappointment when her term expired in January.

Citizen Sean Ziller, a Democrat, had been appointed to serve until March 2020, but he recently submitted a resignation letter because he has obtained a job outside the area, county officials said.

Council may vote to fill the Republican citizen seat on the ethics commission at its Tuesday meeting, which starts at 6 p.m. at the courthouse, the agenda says.

Former county controller Walter Griffith is the lone applicant for the unpaid Republican seat, according to an eligibility list prepared last week.

Griffith and Keith Gould also are on the eligibility list for a vacant citizen Republican seat on the county election board listed on Tuesday’s council agenda for appointment.

• The ethics commission has scheduled a meeting at 10 a.m. Monday at the courthouse, possibly to vote on an attorney hiring.

A complaint submitted to the commission in July is still sealed in its envelope because the commission has no outside attorney to open it as required under the council-adopted ethics code.

The commission has been unable to find three outside attorneys as specified by the code to handle initial investigations on a rotating basis and recommend whether cases should be dismissed or upgraded to formal matters heard by the commission.

County Chief Solicitor Romilda Crocamo recently said one lawyer has responded to a request for proposals, and ethics commission approval is required for that contract to take effect.

• Bednar will present the annual county controller’s report during council’s work session Tuesday, which follows the voting meeting. Her report is attached to the agenda at along with Pedri’s latest monthly division head update.

Luzerne County Courthouse County Courthouse
Butler Township land will be leased

By Jennifer Learn-Andes

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

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