Haas Suggests Expense Cuts As Budget Talks Move Forward

November 12, 2018

Luzerne County Council is slightly more than halfway through the 2019 budget process.

That process began Oct. 9, when county Manager David Pedri presented a proposed $140.95 million budget that called for a 3 percent property tax increase to cover increases in health care costs, pension obligations and debt service payments next year.

It will likely end Dec. 11, when council is scheduled to approve the 2019 budget in final form.

With 34 days down and 29 days to go, Councilman Harry Haas has proposed a series of budget amendments to chip away at the proposed tax hike.

The first amendment Haas proposed concerns the county bureau of elections, the source of a dispute between Haas and Pedri last month.

Haas criticized Pedri for approving the creation of a new elections associate position in July, even though council had rejected the position when it was requested for the 2018 budget.

Pedri countered that he is authorized to create positions when he finds funding for them, and that no council members objected to the move for months. The position was filled in September.

In his proposed amendment, Haas suggests eliminating that position, which was advertised as paying $30,000 per year, from the 2019 budget. Haas also proposed reducing the election bureau’s advertising expenses next year. He says his proposed cuts would save about $89,000 in total.

Haas also proposed cuts to the budget and finance department and the solicitor’s office. The largest proposed reduction is trimming the “special legal” line item in the solicitor’s budget by $500,000, from the requested $675,000 to $175,000.

County chief solicitor Romilda Crocamo said last month she will need to hire outside counsel next year to assist with pending litigation, though she did not go into specifics during the public portion of council’s Oct. 23 meeting. Haas questioned Crocamo about the need to budget so much for outside legal help, noting that council could tap the county’s reserve fund if needed.

Last week, Haas proposed amendments that would cut a total of about $134,000 from the budgets of the sheriff’s department and the prothonotary’s office, including a financial supervisor position budgeted at $38,000.

Council will hold a budget work session on Tuesday, following its 6 p.m. voting session at the county courthouse.

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