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County Council approves Rescue Plan funding for IT projects; postpones vote on ballot question | News

WILKES-BARRE — Luzerne County Council approved the use of $2.46 million of American Rescue Plan coronavirus relief funding for information technology projects on Tuesday.

Also, council postponed a vote on an ordinance that would have authorized placing a question on the May 17 primary ballot, asking voters if they want to amend the county charter to allow council to hire its own solicitor.

Rescue Plan funds

Council voted 8-2 to approve the IT funding request submitted by acting county Manager Romilda Crocamo, who said the money will pay for urgently needed projects.

Crocamo said she only found out last October how serious were the challenges faced by the county Information Technology department.

Time is of the essence to improve the county’s IT situation, she said.

“We have the opportunity and a small window in time to address the difficulties,” Crocamo said.

The funding, from the county’s $112.9 million allotment of Rescue Plan money, will pay for 12 requests submitted by Crocamo and the IT department.

The largest amount, $970,000, is earmarked for a virtualization infrastructure upgrade. Also, $425,000 will go toward cyber security, while $380,000 will pay for networking equipment.

Councilmen Stephen J. Urban and Gregory Wolovich Jr. cast the two “no” votes.

Urban, who works in IT in the private sector, said the proposed projects should have been planned and budgeted years ago. The administration should “sharpen the pencil” and review the funding requests, Urban said.

Crocamo said county IT “really needs a long-term strategic plan,” but in the meantime the requested projects are essential.

Councilman Kevin Lescavage agreed.

“If we don’t start now we are going to be in big trouble,” Lescavage said.

Before it approved the IT funding, council tabled a vote on a request for $25 million in Rescue Plan funding to assist small businesses and nonprofits that were impacted by the pandemic.

The proposal called for the creation of a grant program administered by agencies from throughout the county.

Ballot question

Following lengthy discussion, council did not vote on the proposed ordinance regarding the charter amendment ballot question.

That means the question will almost certainly not appear on the primary ballot, based on a state election law timeline.

Since home rule took effect in 2012, council has relied for legal advice on the county office of law, which also represents the executive branch of county government.

Some council members said that poses a potential conflict. The chief solicitor reports to the county manager, who leads the executive branch.

Urban made that argument in support of the ordinance, which he proposed.

“It is very important to this council that we have our own independent (solicitor),” he said.

First assistant solicitor Vito DeLuca said the proposed charter amendment was “very poorly written” and could be confusing to voters.

It would constitute “a profound change” to the county’s home rule form of government, DeLuca said.

Councilwomen Kendra Radle and LeeAnn McDermott said the question should appear on the ballot at some point, but they want to iron out specific language and details first.

Councilman Tim McGinley made a motion to postpone voting on the ordinance, which council approved 7-3.

Urban, Lescavage and Wolovich voted no.

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