Council picks PNC as county’s banker

Jennifer Learn-Andes jandes@timesleader.com

September 24, 2013

With money constantly flowing in and out, Luzerne County government has $30 million to $70 million deposited in at least six banks at any given moment.

County officials wanted to move this money into one bank that would offer the best and most affordable services to manage the funds, such as online transfers and check access.

County Manager Robert Lawton announced during Tuesday’s council meeting the administration selected PNC Bank over eight other financial institutions that submitted proposals to handle the county’s banking.

PNC also will work with the administration to reduce the county’s bank accounts from 140 to as few as 25 by the end of the year, Lawton said. The county’s home rule charter mandated bank account consolidation. Some accounts must remain segregated by law.

The proposal from PNC was deemed most attractive largely because the bank agreed to waive many fees to save the county money, Lawton said.

PNC also will allow the County Controller’s Office to instantly view all withdrawals, deposits and transfers — oversight access that wasn’t available before, he said.

“I think it’s something the public should really celebrate,” said Councilman Harry Haas.

Councilwoman Elaine Maddon Curry has been inquiring about banking consolidation since she took office in January 2012.

“It’s about time we had one major banking service,” she said.

Councilman Jim Bobeck noted the administration picked the bank, and no rounds of golf or glasses of wine were involved in the selection process.

“It’s all about the merit,” he said.

A council vote clarifying that individual county contractors can’t serve on county boards and authorities sparked debate Tuesday.

The amendment, which passed, was proposed because the charter says employees of businesses with county contracts can’t serve on outside county boards but didn’t expressly ban individual contractors. The amendment would apply to deputy coroners and attorney arbitrators who receive a flat fee but are not on the county payroll.

Councilman Rick Williams voted against the amendment, saying charter limitations have forced the county to reject several viable applicants for unpaid board and authority seats because they have “very minor involvement” in county government.

For example, marketing professional James Reino had to give up his appointment to the authority overseeing the Mohegan Sun Arena because he works for UGI Energy Services, which has a county contract.

Williams said he understands charter drafters imposed strict restrictions to prevent any appearance of favoritism and connections in the appointments, but he believes more public discussion about other options is warranted.

“We need to widen the pool, not narrow it,” Williams said.

Bobeck, who also voted no, said deputy coroners and arbitrators save the county money and should not be barred from serving on boards. One deputy coroner gave up an arena authority seat, and two attorneys stopped accepting compensation as arbitrators to keep their seats on the Luzerne County Community College Board of Trustees.

Councilwoman Linda McClosky Houck said more than 300,000 people live in the county and urged more to volunteer to serve on boards.