Last updated: April 14. 2013 11:17PM - 5636 Views
By - jandes@civitasmedia.com - (570) 991-6388



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The Luzerne County administration is rethinking plans to cancel participation in a state bug spraying program, sources say.


County management eliminated $75,000 from the 2013 budget for blackfly spraying because the state did not supply documentation showing the program has proven results. The administration had planned to conduct spraying in-house if problems surfaced.


However, some County Council members and citizens expressed concern about pulling out of the program.


Prior commissioners considered a similar spraying cancellation on the advice of an outside financial recovery consultant in 2010, but they reversed their decision after the state warned the Susquehanna River generates “tremendous numbers of adult gnats that will adversely impact outdoor recreation activities throughout the county.”


The gnats — technically known as blackflies — tend to stay close to the river but are known to travel 20 miles, state officials said.


* The county would save about $87,000 annually by reducing the number of paid employee holidays from 12 to 11, Councilman Jim Bobeck noted at last week’s meeting.


The cost-cutting example, which came from the county’s 2009 five-year financial recovery plan, illustrates how alterations to employee benefits can “have a huge effect,” he said.


Council’s strategic initiatives committee, which Bobeck chairs, will be discussing holidays and other benefits in coming months as it develops workforce standards. The committee will meet at 6 p.m. Tuesday in the council meeting room at the county courthouse in Wilkes-Barre.


* Five employees were hired in March, according to county Manager Robert Lawton’s latest public personnel report: Jhasmily A. Marmolejos and Brooke Severcool, mental health caseworkers, $32,116; Brian Swetz, budget/finance senior accountant, $45,000; Wojciech Jankowski, assistant public defender, $40,000; and Daniel Chipego, deputy controller, $50,000.


Four furloughed employees returned to work: assessor’s clerk Barbara Kocher, $21,000, and three prison correctional officers — John Taffera, $56,311; Nicole Hoisington, $36,602; and John Kotz, $39,417.


* The county’s new financial software program should be operational July 1, Lawton told council. The administration says the system will improve the tracking and reporting of county funds.


* County Controller Walter Griffith clashed with Councilman Rick Morelli Tuesday when Griffith asked if Morelli has kept his campaign promise to donate his $8,000 council salary to charity. Morelli said he has donated the money to charity and said it’s “a shame” Griffith is questioning the matter.


“I’m doing a hell of a good job. Thank you,” Morelli said.


* County Council candidate Renee Ciaruffoli-Taffera, Larksville, told council Tuesday it needs a process to independently interpret the county’s home rule charter when something is unclear.


She said a county staff solicitor’s opinion could be viewed as biased toward the manager or council. She also challenged a recent published charter interpretation from Kingston attorney Jim Haggerty, saying he was only one of 11 charter drafters.


Haggerty recently said the charter doesn’t require the county’s budget/finance division head to live in the county to be eligible to serve on the county retirement board. He said a charter section specifying board appointees must be county residents applies only to non-employee citizens because the charter has no residency requirement for the eight division heads.


* Richard “Kick” Heffron, Dallas, a council candidate and charter drafter, told council members they are going against the charter and its intent if they allow budget/finance head Richard Cardamone, Archbald, to serve on the retirement board.


“The new budget director may be the greatest guy in the world, but this is subverting the charter,” Heffron said.


* Councilwoman Elaine Maddon Curry questioned the status of consolidating county bank accounts. A reduction in the county’s roughly 700 to 100 bank accounts was promised under home rule.


Lawton said the administration is reviewing proposals from financial institutions.


* Council appointed Gregory Koons, Mountain Top, to the Workforce Investment Board last week.


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