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Luzerne County Budget Hearing Attracts No Interest

November 20, 2018

WILKES-BARRE — Luzerne County’s budget hearing on Monday ended in record time: No one from the public testified, and neither did any of the six county council members present.

The public hearing had been scheduled in between work sessions devoted to the proposed 2019 budgets for the county’s general government — the county administration and county council — and the county human services division, which includes Children and Youth Services.

County council is holding a series of budget work sessions this fall, focusing on county departments and divisions. Council is scheduled to adopt the final county budget on Dec. 11. The $140.9 million budget proposal county Manager David Pedri presented last month includes a 3 percent property tax increase. Council members have said they want to reduce the size of the tax increase, and are examining each department’s budget proposal during the work sessions.

The proposed budget for general government projects an increase in expenditures of 4.4 percent, from about $20.7 million this year to about $21.6 million next year.

Nearly all of that would go toward increases in mandatory contributions to employee health care and retirement. About $571,000 would cover increases in the county’s contribution to employee retirement, while about $282,000 would pay for increased healthcare costs and administrative fees.

Discussion of the human services division was complicated by the fact that departments within the division receive significant state and federal funding.

Council spent some time discussing the proposed budget for Children and Youth Services, since accounting problems with the Children and Youth audit for 2017 caused the overall county audit to miss the June 30, 2018 deadline stipulated in the county charter.

Children and Youth Director Joanne Van Saun said she is confident that, with the help of a new auditing firm, the agency’s audit will be “clean” and on time next year.

Councilwoman Linda McClosky Houck asked Van Saun if she could explain an ongoing issue with Children and Youth audits over several years: Some years, audits state the county owes Children and Youth as much as $5.6 million, while in other years audits suggest the opposite.

“I wouldn’t be able to speak to that, it’s more a question for an auditor,” Van Saun replied.

Council Chairman Tim McGinley said county officials and outside auditors will continue to work on fixing the Children and Youth audit problems.

“We know you have a lot of challenges ahead with the financial side of it,” he told Van Saun.

Council members Edward Brominski, Harry Haas, Sheila Saidman, Stephen A. Urban and Matthew Vough were absent.

Contact the writer:

emark@citizensvoice.com

570-821-2117

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