Luzerne County’s recently completed audit determined the county ended 2021 with a budget surplus of $4.8 million, county budget/finance division chief Brian Swetz told council last week.
Swetz said the savings largely came from a high number of budgeted staff positions that went unfilled. While the vacancies have helped the county stand out, they’re also contributing to staff burnout and increased overtime spending, he said.
County Executive Randy Robertson said he was working to make county government an “employer of choice”. He identified employee recruitment and retention as a top priority.
Representatives from Bakertilly, who have completed the 70-page audit, will present their findings and answer questions at a July board meeting, Swetz said.
Councilman Tim McGinley, who chairs the council’s budget, finance and audit committee, praised Swetz and his staff for quickly compiling the information Bakertilly needed to complete the audit before the 30 June fixed by the county rules charter.
Swetz said the administration may propose to council that at least a portion of the surplus be earmarked to replenish the county’s capital projects fund.
The county’s proposed annual capital plan, which was required to be submitted by June 1 under the charter, did not call for new projects because the fund is essentially depleted, according to the document.
The capital fund came mainly from past borrowings, periodically supplemented by one-time receipts.
Only $276,206 of unencumbered funds remain. The administration proposes to place these funds in an emergency construction fund to cover unforeseen problems and needs.
About $11 million had been in the fund in 2016, according to the plan. Dozens of projects large and small have been completed since then, including IT upgrades, building and parking lot repairs, elevator updates, roof replacements, courthouse restoration and security improvements at the aging Water Street County Jail in Wilkes-Barre, he says.
Last week, the Council discussed two proposed allocations of the county’s $96.3 million in U.S. federal bailout funding not yet earmarked for projects.
A project would use $1.86 million to repair and resurface a deteriorated 3.1-mile stretch of county-owned Sweet Valley Road in Ross and Union Townships from State Roads 4024 to 4016.
County officials said most of American Rescue’s funding cannot be used for road rehabilitation, except for a category known as “revenue loss” which is more discretionary and based. on the dollar amount of revenue the county has lost as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
About $4 million of $8.9 million is still available in the lost revenue category for the board to allocate, officials said.
Council expects to vote on the proposed route later this month.
American Rescue’s second assignment would provide an additional $235,000 to replace two elevators at the county jail.
The Council had authorized $300,000 in funding from American Rescue for the elevator project in January to supplement $350,000 in county capital funds already earmarked, making $650,000 available.
However, the agenda stated that Otis Elevator was the only company to submit a bid and that an additional $235,000 was required.
Several council members asked for more information on the increased costs during last week’s working session.
Board Chair Kendra Radle urged the administration to provide answers as soon as possible so the board can attempt to vote at its next meeting on July 12.
“We can’t drag our feet in prison elevators from all places. It is a handicap not to have safe elevators in the prison. So I agree that we need to find out why this spike happened, but I also think we can’t continue to delay this process,” Radle said.
The prison’s two elevators date from the 1980s. Some repairs were completed after a fifth-floor elevator door opened at the base in 2016, killing a corrections officer and an inmate , but officials say the engine system and controls need updating, largely because replacement components are now difficult. to find.