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County Council Confusion Over Budget Amendment Vote

December 5, 2018

County Council Confusion Over Budget Amendment Vote

WILKES-BARRE — The maze of multiple amendments to Luzerne County’s 2019 budget grew so confusing on Tuesday that some council members wound up voting yes when they meant no, or vice versa. The confused vote concerned a disputed position in the county bureau of elections. County Manager David Pedri approved the creation of the position, focused on voter outreach, in July, even though county council had rejected it in budget discussions last fall. Councilman Harry Haas, who has frequently complained the position should not have been created after council rejected it, submitted a budget amendment that eliminated the position, among numerous cuts Haas proposed to the election bureau’s budget. Haas and Pedri sparred again over the merits of the position and how it was created during Tuesday’s council voting session. “We saw a need for that position, we had money in the budget, we went forward with it,” Pedri said. “We had the debate on this last year, we said no,” Haas said. “That is a serious problem.” The confusion began as council engaged in lengthy debate over Haas’s proposed amendment, as well as an amendment proposed by council Chairman Tim McGinley that cut the election bureau’s budget less severely. Then council discussed proposed amendments to the amendments. By the time of council’s final vote on an amended version of the Haas amendment, which included the elimination of the new position as well as the lesser expense reductions proposed by McGinley, council members appeared to be unsure what they were voting on. A further complication stemmed from a technology malfunction. Councilmen Edward Brominski and Matthew Vough participated via telephone. However, Vough’s signal cut off midway through the meeting, before council voted on the election bureau budget. Councilman Stephen A. Urban was absent. The vote on the amended amendment was 5-4 in favor, which meant it failed since a majority vote of the 11-member council is required to adopt budget amendments, according to county chief solicitor Romilda Crocamo. Once council members realized what had happened, they voted on a motion to re-open the previous motion, with councilmen Eugene Kelleher and Robert Schnee saying they wanted to change their votes. However, that motion failed by the same tally of 5-4 in favor, failing to gain the needed majority of the full council. Things could change soon, though. Council members are permitted to submit budget amendments at any point before council’s final vote to approve the 2019 budget, which is scheduled for Dec. 11. Kelleher said he expects council to vote on a new proposed amendment to the election bureau budget next week, prior to the final county budget vote. The $140.95 million 2019 budget proposal that Pedri presented in October includes a 3 percent property tax increase, which would add about $18 to the annual county tax bill for a property assessed at $100,000. The tax increase is needed to cover mandated increases in health care costs, pension obligations and debt service payments, Pedri said. Contact the writer: emark@citizensvoice.com 570-821-2117

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