Last updated: October 27. 2013 11:54PM - 2470 Views
By - jandes@civitasmedia.com

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Stephen A. Urban is still upset a majority of his Luzerne County Council colleagues accepted county Manager Robert Lawton’s May 2012 decision to cancel $2 million in community development funding to renovate the landmark New Jersey Central train station in downtown Wilkes-Barre for county offices.

Urban brought up the matter at last week’s council meeting after Councilman Rick Williams briefed council on Luzerne and Lackawanna county officials’ interest in exploring a possible regional transportation authority.

A regional approach could increase state and federal funding for transportation enhancements and include Luzerne County in studies of a proposed Scranton connection to passenger rail service into New York City, Williams said.

Urban said he and other former commissioners had a vision to preserve the train station and surrounding land to provide a connection if passenger rail service materializes. He described the station’s condition as “rotting” and “like a dump.”

“The reality was you had $2 million of federal money to fix up the train station, and you and other members of council here let the manager just kill the project,” Urban told Williams.

Williams pointed to Lawton’s opinion that he would have a “difficult time” using community development business loan funds for a project that won’t create jobs. The county already had paid $6.1 million to buy the property for an appraised $5.8 million and begin restoration design

The county Redevelopment Authority, which owns the property, is about to seek proposals from developers interested in buying and preserving the station before considering the county Historical Society’s request for the authority to donate the property to the organization to ensure the 144-year-old train station is saved.

• Most of the citizens who speak out at county meetings are regular attendees, and council Chairman Tim McGinley told Kingston resident Ed Gustitus Tuesday he noticed his recent absence.

“I’m back by popular demand,” Gustitus said before he urged council members to impose budget cuts and not raise taxes 8 percent in 2014 as proposed by Lawton.

• Council will hold its first public 2014 budget work session at 6 p.m. Tuesday in the council meeting room at the courthouse. Lawton will present the budget and answer council’s questions.

• A few statistics from the proposed budget: overtime spending increased from $832,886 to $1.2 million next year, length-of-service bonuses decreased from $461,912 to $460,741, and the county buy-back of unused vacation and sick days from employees will rise from $102,450 to $198,246.

• The 11 county council candidates and two controller contenders are scheduled to attend Wednesday’s Wilkes-Barre Area League of Women Voters forum from 7 to 9 p.m. at Luzerne County Community College’s education conference center in Nanticoke.

Candidates will be permitted a one-minute introduction before discussing their opinion of the most important issue they’d deal with if elected and their qualifications to address that issue.

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