No Wiggle Room for Counties on State Orders

By Rick Hiduk

(Exclusive to readers)

In the course of a brief Zoom video conference held Tuesday morning, the Wyoming County Commissioners reported that help to offset the economic losses at the local level is slow to come from the federal government, and a bill that would allow county commissioners to make some of their own decisions for a gradual reopening of businesses had been vetoed by Gov. Tom Wolf.

We would be able to use different guidelines than Luzerne county to open up,” commissioner chair Rick Wilbur offered as an example. “But our hands are tied because that died on his desk. Counties will not be able to make any decisions accept for lobbying.”

The commissioners have also been encouraged by the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania (CCAP) to lobby their U.S. representatives to support legislation that would provide assistance such as payroll tax credits for county government. At present, very little has been added to stimulus packages to specifically help counties, Wilbur noted but, when he called Congressman Keller’s office on Monday, he was assured of a Yes vote.

Wilbur maintained that the layoffs of 55 county employees and schedule reductions of others were necessary to keep the county solvent and result in approximately $60,000 savings for each two-week payroll period. “We’re in a cash crunch, and we’ll do what we need to do,” Wilbur stated. In the meantime, primary county-level operations continue.

Wilbur addressed the governor’s plans to begin a methodical reopening of the state on Friday, May 8. “That may change if numbers go back up,” he said. “Everything is still very much up in the air. Things may be looking up, and I hope that he’s right.”

State-run liquor stores have reopened for curbside service, he noted. “That’s because the state makes money on those,” Wilbur remarked, adding with tongue-in-cheek, “perhaps if he had a golfing license, the golf courses could reopen.”

The commissioners have been busy participating in three or more video conferences per day with area agencies and state and federal officials. Commissioners Ernie King and Tom Henry, for example, took part in last week’s county planning commission meeting. Maintaining safe distancing, King and Wilbur visited the county Communications Center to recognize employees there during National Telecommunicators Week.

The commissioners will continue virtual meetings every Tuesday and Thursday until it is deemed safe to allow the public back into the courthouse. But a more secure and reliable technology will be used starting Tuesday, April 28. The county has been using Zoom at no cost, but the platform limits online time and has been hacked in numerous instances.

The new platform will be GoToMeeting. The log-in is different for every meeting, so those who are interested in participating or listening in will need to check the county website or local media outlets for the current information.

Additional Matters of Interest

The commissioners paused the meeting with a moment of silence to honor Bradford County commissioner Ed Bustin, who passed away suddenly on Sunday morning. He was remembered as a thoughtful and engaging civic leader who was loved by his home county.

The Wyoming County commissioners consider the 39.8 percent response rate by county residents to the 2020 Census “abysmal” and encouraged everyone to call the number on their census forms or log on to to complete the brief survey.

Census officials will have no choice but to start sending enumerators out to knock on doors to gather the information, Wilbur explained, “and that’s the last thing we want right now.”

King estimates that up to $10-million in federal and state funding could go elsewhere if Wyoming County is not properly counted.

Regular meeting attendee and prison corrections officer Albert Olive thanked the commissioners for their regular virtual updates and expressed his appreciation for the efforts of warden Ken Repsher and his staff for enacting COVID-19 mitigation practices at the corrections facility. “You’ve all been working together and made it as safe as you can,” he stated.

Lori Bennett, director of Wyoming County Special Needs, reported that, while their physical office is closed, two employees continue to work with clients under MHDS approval and guidelines. They are permitted to check in on clients and take them for medication or rides, though they are not allowed to interact with the community. “Our consumers and staff are healthy,” said Bennett.

Commissioner Henry provided Bennett an update on a local homeless man known as “Tony,” letting her know that he’d been put up in a local hotel for a month and that Trehab staff is helping him get a Real ID card from the state.

Bennett reminded the commissioners that the Tunkhannock Area School Board will conduct a virtual meeting using Zoom on Thursday evening, April 23.

The commissioners will hold a work session at 9 am via Zoom on Thursday using the same login information that has been used for the past few weeks.

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