Last updated: February 19. 2013 10:25PM - 767 Views

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Luzerne County‚??s 2013 budget absorbs an additional $1.7 million in raises and length-of-service bonuses mandated by union contracts, county Manager Robert Lawton said last week.

A review of the 10 union contracts shows the amounts vary.

Workers in four unions -- detectives, Children and Youth, Aging and Mental Health -- will receive 2-percent pay hikes.

The court-appointed support staff union will receive 2.5 percent, while the rank-and-file residual unit is promised 3 percent or $750, whichever is greater.

Three unions will receive 3 percent raises: assistant public defenders/district attorneys, court-appointed professionals (primarily probation and domestic relations support officers) and the prison.

A raise for the court-related union has not been established because the contract is in binding arbitration.

‚?Ę Tuesday‚??s county council meeting ran so long, council didn‚??t get to make closing statements until after 11 p.m.

Councilman Stephen J. Urban was getting ready to offer his thoughts when someone‚??s cellphone blasted a ring tone of crickets.

‚??You can hear the crickets already,‚?Ě he said as the audience burst into laughter.

Citizen Michael Lacey also noted the length of the session during public comment.

‚??The meeting‚??s been so long I was going to order dinner from the prison,‚?Ě he said.

Lacey was referring to a now-stopped practice of providing free meals to some prison workers. He said he‚??s doing his own investigation and has interviewed the family members of inmates to verify the workers receive some food items that aren‚??t on the inmate meal plan. Warden Joseph Piazza has insisted workers received the same food as inmates.

County Controller Walter Griffith also is investigating the prison food, and council and the administration also might seek an external review.

‚?Ę The county ethics commission will meet at 4:30 p.m. today, with the agenda including a decision on a complaint involving a deputy coroner.

Wilkes-Barre resident Belinda Coulibaly, whose father unexpectedly died of natural causes in August, filed a complaint against a deputy coroner in October, saying the official violated an ethics code ban prohibiting coroners from soliciting, discussing or accepting business for a funeral home with which they are associated while they‚??re engaged in county business.

The meeting is in the second-floor jury room at the courthouse in Wilkes-Barre.

‚?Ę A meeting of council‚??s Authorities, Boards and Commissions Committee will be at 6 p.m. today in the same room, followed by a special county council meeting at 7:30 p.m. ‚?? also in the jury room ‚?? to vote on the proposed 2013 budget.

‚?Ę Two county meetings will be held Tuesday, both in the Emergency Management Agency building, Water Street, Wilkes-Barre. The Flood Protection Authority will meet at 11 a.m., and county council will hold a work session and meeting starting at 6 p.m.

‚?Ę Tuesday‚??s council work session will include a presentation by citizen Michael Giamber on the need for hiring based on merit.

‚?Ę Council also plans to vote Tuesday on citizens who will fill 34 unpaid seats on various boards, authorities and commissions. All applicants have been publicly interviewed.

‚?Ę Council tentatively plans to call a special meeting on Dec. 27 ‚?? the details have not been set ‚?? to approve insurance contracts for 2013. Council previously accepted the administration‚??s recommendation to hire a new insurance broker, and the meeting should show whether this action has resulted in savings on insurance premiums.

‚?Ę Council Chairman Tim McGinley has decided to establish council meeting dates, along with some of the topics that will be discussed, for the entire 2013 calendar year. The planned schedule has been posted on the council section of the county website, www.luzernecounty.org.

‚?Ę Lawton told council he will reconsider the closing of the south entrance to the courthouse. Some council members and citizens raised concerns about the decision to limit access to the rear entrance, in part due to the layoff of two security guards.

Councilman Rick Williams said officials had discussed the possibility of switching parking lots on River Street and the rear of the courthouse to public lots and requiring all employees to use the Water Street parkade. If that happens, the south entrance may be needed for the public, he said.

Councilmen Edward Brominski and Stephen A. Urban agreed the south entrance should remain open, and Urban noted it‚??s ‚??not too often‚?Ě he agrees with Brominski.

‚?Ę Councilman Harry Haas voted against increasing the controller‚??s salary last week, saying high salaries were never intended for ‚??positions of honor.‚?Ě He said high salaries attract ‚??political hacks.‚?Ě

The motion to increase the salary from $36,562 to $64,999 for the controller elected next November passed with six votes.

‚?Ę Lawton must keep tight control over supplies this year because council reduced that allotment countywide from $757,455 to $507,455 to bolster a contingency reserve and free up $100,000 to provide $1,000 bonuses to non-union workers.

A bonus is a one-time payment that does not increase an employee‚??s salary. Brominski said he will be impressed if the administration lives within the new allocation for supplies. Councilwoman Linda McClosky Houck said she doesn‚??t want to reach the point at which employees must bring their own toilet paper to work.

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