Participants in the Feb. 11 meeting of the Wyoming County Commissioners included (from left) solicitor Paul Litwin III, commissioners Tom Henry, Rick Wilbur, and Ernie King and chief clerk Bill Gaylord.
Photo and story by Rick Hiduk
(Exclusive to Endlessmtnlifestyles.com readers)
Wyoming County Commissioner chair Rick Wilbur said he and fellow commissioners have been very busy since their last public meeting, getting to know how various agencies work and finding new ways to work as a team. After two large meetings planned in the coming days with department heads, the commissioners will meet with the departments separately.
“They know how to run their departments better than any of the three of us at this table,” Wilbur said of the managers and directors. “Ernie (King) and I are kind of new to this, so we need to know what’s going on.”
In an executive meeting, for which the commissioners, solicitor and chief clerk left the room, it was decided that department heads should have the authority to fire an employee at their discretion if that employee is on probation and the department head does not feel that he or she is working out.
King and Wilbur participated in a training session at the Northern Tier Regional Planning & Development Commission in Towanda last week before commissioner Tom Henry joined them for regular meeting of the organization.
The commissioners also recently met with Dale Shupp, president of the Lackawanna Wyoming County Farm Bureau to get a better sense of state of agriculture in the region. “Though dairy is waning,” Wilbur noted, “A lot of farms are taking alternate roots and planting different crops, including hemp.” Shupp, he added, is planning a series of Farm Bureau outreach meetings in the near future.
Henry related that Dennis Phelps, director of Trehab, has lent his assistance to the county to get the Wyoming County Housing & Redevelopment Authority back on track.
The commissioners also attended public meetings conducted by the new Wyoming County Greenways, Parks & Trails Committee, which recently conducted a poll of residents to determine what kinds of outdoor recreation are most wanted and needed.
Participation was brisk, Henry and King agreed, at a public presentation by the Endless Mountains Heritage Region and Route 6 Alliance on the PA Route 6 Facade program.
Wilbur credited King for going door-to-door at local businesses to increase awareness of the availability of funding for exterior improvements. Henry expressed hope that attendance being higher in Wyoming County meeting than a similar meeting held in Towanda the next day will translate into more grants for Wyoming County than our neighbors to the northwest.
Seeing Bright Spots on the Horizon
While he maintains that the economic status of the county is murky, Wilbur pointed out two milestones since the last meeting that suggested some silver linings. The county’s pension plan made more money than was spent out in 2019, he reported, and the commissioners approved the annual TAN (tax anticipation note) four to five weeks later than usual this year.
“We made it through two payrolls, which is pretty remarkable,” said chief clerk Bill Gaylord. The TAN is an open loan held with a local bank that allows governments to continue spending while waiting for tax revenue to come in.
“They may not be big things, but we’ll take whatever good news we can get,” Wilbur remarked.
No time line was given for the hook-up, but the commissioners agreed to sign a memorandum of understanding with Energy Systems Group to shop for and lock in the lowest rate for natural gas, now that lines for the first phase of the UGI project in Tunkhannock have been installed.
New Job Description and Positions to be Filled
Maverick Harding was promoted from part-time to full-time corrections officer at the jail in Tunkhannock, and Connor Munley was hired as a part-time CO.
County 911 director Jeff Porter asked for and was granted permission to advertise for 911 dispatchers. The department is currently short a dispatcher, and the county is paying overtime. The culprit, Wilbur suggested, is the county’s low unemployment rate.
Sheriff Roberts request for current court security officer Joseph Miller to pursue the training needed to serve the county more efficiently as a deputy sheriff was also approved. The cost of the 19-week certification course will be reimbursed by the state, and there will be no increase in pay.
The benefit, Roberts explained, is that Miller will be able to perform the duties of both jobs, allowing for the position of court security officer to be abandoned after his training is complete.
Louis Marcho was approved as deputy coroner and will be paid $250 per month by the county to maintain his eligibility for workmen’s comp.
The $600,000 grant issued to the county district attorney and human services department in 2019 to simultaneously combat the opioid crisis and steer more people with substance use disorders to effective treatment rather than prison will lead to tow new jobs. The grant money and program allows for the hiring of a new case manager/bail supervisor specialist. The $600,000 will cover the wages for three years, as well as other costs associated with the program. A salary board meeting will be held at 10 am on Tuesday, Feb. 25 to confirm the pay scale for the new hire.
Wolf’s PSP Payment Plan and Last-Minute Bills Get Thumbs Down
The commissioners agreed to send letters to Sen. Lisa Baker, Rep. Karen Boback, and Gov. Tom Wolf to express their disapproval of the governor’s recently announced plan to have all municipalities pay for state police protection, whether or not they have their own departments. “It’s another unfunded mandate coming down from Harrisburg,” Wilbur maintained.
Wilbur effectively tabled the signing of the bills as presented by Bill Gaylord because he wanted time to look through them first. Solicitor Paul Litwin related that they must be approved in a public meeting…if not immediately, then at work session on Thursday, Feb. 13, which is also open to the public. Wilbur said that he was going to need several hours to go through the stack of bills on the table. “It’s either that, or they need to come to me sooner,” he stated.
Additional Meeting Commentary
Tina Henning attended the meeting on behalf of the FWM Fire Department in Mehoopany to ask for funding for a new rapid intervention team (RIT) tank. Several FWM firefighters are RIT-certified, Henning noted, which puts them in a “stand-by” position at emergency scenes to rescue downed first responders, which might include entrapment and the need for breathing apparatus.
The air tank that FWM currently has is expired, and a new one will cost between $1,800 and $3,000, which is not in the company’s budget. Commissioner Wilbur asked for more details and said that the board would look into the issue.
When asked if the commissioners still had an interest in the former Mill City Elementary School building, which they had voted two-to-one last month to pursue but lost to Dobrinski Brothers, Wilbur said that his calls to the business to see if the county could buy the Mill City building had not been returned.
“I am assuming they are not interested,” Wilbur stated. “I wish they would come forward with a reasonable offer, but I don’t think that’s ever going to happen.”
Lori Bennett reminded the commissioners that there will be a kick-off event on March 2 for Intellectual Disabilities Awareness Month and a breakfast later that month for clients of Wyoming County Special Needs and their supporters.
Commissioner Wilbur asked members of the media to get the word out that the U.S. Census Department is preparing to canvas Wyoming County but is extremely short on poll takers, known professionally as numerators. The pay is good, and the hours are flexible. Those interested in the job should call Duane Naugle at 570-331-9810. Wilbur also stressed the importance of being counted, as rural municipalities depend on a lot of funding that is allocated based on population figures.
The courthouse will be closed on Monday, Feb. 17 in observance of Presidents Day. The next meeting of the Wyoming County Commissioners will be held on Tuesday, Feb. 25, after the prison morning at 9 am, which is also open to the public.