Wilkes-Barre Mayor George adds two jobs while talking layoffs to balance budget


    WILKES-BARRE — While talking firefighter layoffs as a fix for a possible budget shortfall, Mayor Tony George created two new jobs, including an administrative spot for a neighbor.

    George Friday confirmed a tip that he will bring on Joyce Zaykowski to work at City Hall for a salary of $45,000 plus benefits.

    “She’s a neighbor,” he acknowledged. But the mayor dismissed any notions that it was a plum job. “It’s going to be a hard-working job.”

    The other spot was given to retired police Capt. Tom Unvarsky to return as a civilian to assist the department in using the CompStat method of analyzing computer statistics to fight crime.

    George said Unvarsky will be paid an annual salary of approximately $41,000.

    Unvarsky is already on the job and Zaykowski starts Monday. But further down the road, layoffs loom as George searches for ways to cover a $3.65 million shortfall, based on his scrutiny of the $51.5 million balanced budget handed to him by the previous office holder Tom Leighton.

    George angered firefighters by singling them out for layoffs in a press release last week announcing his budget amendment plans and not notifying them beforehand. His new hires added fuel to that fire.

    “It’s absolutely ludicrous that he would consider hiring anyone additional,” said Greg Freitas, vice president of Local 104 of the International Association of Fire Fighters.

    George’s plans harkened back to December 2012 when Leighton, facing a revenue shortfall due to a holdup of earned income tax payments, furloughed 11 firefighters. They returned to work in February 2013 under a budget that raised taxes to include money to pay their salaries and benefits.

    Freitas asked about the threatened layoffs at Thursday night’s city council meeting. He received assurance from council chairman Bill Barrett every effort would be made to collect the revenues itemized in this year’s budget.

    Barrett said he wanted to guard against any shortfalls this year. “It’s incumbent upon this council and incumbent upon the administration to ensure that that does not happen. We do not want to lose anything — the firefighters, the police officers or anything — but we need to make sure that we are operating as efficiently as we can so that we do not encounter shortfalls at the end of the year,” he said.

    As a councilman, George did not vote for Leighton’s budget that did not contain a tax increase. As the new mayor, he’s proposed a 25-mill tax hike and cutting revenue projections to bring them more in line with years past. George said he’ll present his case at a public hearing set for 5 p.m. on Feb. 9 at city hall.

    Layoffs are a last resort if nothing changes by Feb. 15, the deadline set by the charter to amend the budget. George said he understood how the fire fighters could be upset about the two new jobs.

    “I can see that,” he said, but defended the hirings. “These are two people that are needed. They’re not do-nothing jobs.”

    He explained that the city risked losing grant money if either one of the spots were not created. Zaykowski will be assigned to working on the Coal Street extension and Solomon Creek Flood Protection projects. George, a former police chief who campaigned on a “Law and Order” platform, said Unvarsky will be filling a void in the department. The Uniform Crime Reports haven’t been filed since June, and the city could lose funds if the data is not compiled and submitted to state and federal law enforcement agencies, George said.

    By Jerry Lynott

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    Reach Jerry Lynott at 570-991-6120 or on Twitter @TLJerryLynott

    Reach Jerry Lynott at 570-991-6120 or on Twitter @TLJerryLynott

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