By Lou Jasikoff and John DiLiberto
With the midnight deadline looming, the Luzerne County Council approved the 2013 Budget they’ve been ironing out in a special session held at the Luzerne County Courthouse Monday evening. In a 7-4 decision Council members Jim Bobeck, Elaine Maddon-Curry, Harry Haas, Rick Williams, Eugene Kelleher, Linda McCloskey-Houck, and Council Chair Tim McGinley voted to approve. Voting against the budget were Stephen A. Urban, Ed Brominski, Stephen J. Urban, and Rick Morelli.
In a brief meeting — by recent Council meeting standards — none of the members were completely satisfied, but for the most part seemed pleased and looked forward to improving the process throughout the next year.
In voting in the affirmative Rick Williams said he was “hopeful and making progress. The budget process will be better next year and we’re looking forward to that.”
Council Chair Tim McGinley stated, “Nothing is perfect, not the process, not the budget, but we’ll work to make it better.”
In dissenting, Stephen A. Urban explained that, “There is still too much excess spending in the budget. On one hand we have layoffs while we are creating new ninety-thousand-dollar-a-year positions.”
Rick Morelli expressed his reservations. “Something is wrong. We have tax increases one year, and bonuses the next,” referencing the proposed bonuses in the approved budget for county workers.
Steven J. Urban complained of a lack of communication from County Manager Robert Lawton, claiming he received only seven or eight emails from the Manager since his coming on board in late February. The younger Urban was looking to see improvements in that area of the budget process this coming year.
In a somewhat unexpected development, former candidate for County Council Kathy Dobash requested that both Jim Bobeck and Tim McGinley recuse themselves from the final budget vote because of the appearance of conflicts of interest. Tim McGinley worked for the Commission on Economic Opportunity which receives County money and Ms. Dobash expressed concerns that he still possesses affiliations and professional contacts within that Commission. She voiced even greater concern over Jim Bobeck’s participation. Bobeck’s father, James is the current President and CEO of Step by Step Inc, a nonprofit which receives millions of dollars in contracts from the County and other government agencies. Dobash informed the Gazette that the elder Bobeck’s 2009 salary was $198,235 at a time when the State average salary for similar positions was about $101,000, by comparison.