Luzerne County Councilwoman Eileen Sorokas on Tuesday resurrected a proposal to designate $2 million to improvements at Moon Lake Park in the 2014 fiscal year.
Sorokas made the proposal during a meeting of the Economic Development/Real Estate Committee, one of four council committees to meet Tuesday night.
Councilman Stephen A. Urban in June had proposed using $2 million of the estimated $18 million left from past borrowing to fund improvements at the county-owned park in Plymouth Township.
But several council members had criticized the plan, noting council had to vote by Aug. 31 on county Manager Robert Lawton’s proposed 2014 fiscal year capital spending plan, which did not include funding for Moon Lake. The administration and some council members also say the capital funds must be reserved, if possible, because it’s unclear when the county will be in a position to borrow again because of its nearly $400 million in debt and lack of an uninsured credit rating.
Urban held off on making a motion for a vote.
Sorokas on Tuesday said Moon Lake funding could come from other areas of the capital plan, and noted matching state funds should be available for some improvements, such as work on the boat launch. She said if council asked the state to take over the property and the state agrees, the resolution would be null and void.
Committee Chairwoman Linda McClosky Houck asked Sorokas what would not be funded if money in the capital spending plan were to be allocated to Moon Lake.
Councilwoman Kathy Dobash, who participated via speakerphone, suggested using $500,000 that Lawton slated for moving a Vietnam veterans memorial, saying “I don’t think the veterans want us to touch that.”
Councilman Edward Brominski agreed. He suggested using another $500,000 Lawton slated for realignment of the rear courthouse access road to connect it to West Union Street and pointed to another $970,000 budgeted for “paving in back of the courthouse.”
Dobash said any funding the county receives from the state impact fee on natural gas drillers could be used for maintenance at Moon Lake.
Councilman Harry Haas said he was reluctant to support the allocation without more time to formulate a spending plan. “It just seems like if were going to start slicing and dicing here, we should be proactive and plan, rather than do something midstream. If this is going to really move forward, we should look at fiscal year 2015,” he said.
During public comment, Lawton urged council to review the master site development plan for the park that council approved in July 2012, noting that there were $5 million in improvements needed “to bring it back to where folks are able to use it as in the past.”
Lawton said council “may think it’s a great use for capital investment to make, but I would also urge council to be mindful of the general fund commitment” for operations, which he said was approximately $400,000 in 2007. He also warned that state impact fees appeared to be “over-performing” and might decrease in the future.
The committee approved Sorokas’ motion to move the proposal forward for discussion at next Tuesday’s work session.
In other business, county Budget and Finance Director Brian Swetz provided an update on the 2013 audit, explaining that a shortage in staffing, retirement of a key office employee and transitioning to new accounting software all contributed to the delay.
Dobash wanted council to dicuss fining Lawton $100 a day in salary for each day the county budget or audit was past deadline. Solicitor David Pedri asked her to put a proposal in writing for his review, as he had concerns about a conflict with Lawton’s contract. He also suggested further discussion on the matter in a closed-door personnel session.