Luzerne County prison overtime flagged as budgetary concern

By Jennifer Learn-Andes -

Overtime is “trending very high” at the Luzerne County Correctional Facility and expected to run about $300,000 over budget by the end of the year, county Manager C. David Pedri warned the council during his mid-year report Tuesday.

The county budgeted $940,000 for overtime at the prison on Water Street in Wilkes-Barre this year.

Pedri attributed some of this overrun on the need to call in additional staff after an inmate and corrections officer fell down a prison elevator shaft to their deaths on July 18.

Corrections officers also receive 18 sick days annually, and more than usual have been using their sick days instead of banking them for future use or to cash-in, he said. Minimum staffing requirements have forced the administration to call in other corrections officers at overtime to cover for those who call in sick, he said.

A reduction in inmates that must be housed out in other counties may yield $300,000 to cover the excessive overtime, Pedri said.

The county budgeted $547,500 to rent bed space in other county prisons due to prison overcrowding. Twelve female inmates currently are housed in Clinton County at a cost of $70 each per day, said county Correctional Services Division Head Mark Rockovich.

The prison also faces another $200,000 shortfall because prior administrators shorted the allocation for inmate healthcare by budgeting $1.9 million, even though the contracted expense was $2.1 million. He said he is working with the healthcare provider on options to spread out that $200,000 shortfall over future years.

Rockovich said he is monitoring sick time looking for patterns of abuse, but he stressed many factors contribute to overtime. For example, he said correctional officers recently had to be paid overtime to guard four inmates who were hospitalized.

The administration is optimistic the county will end the year within budget overall, Pedri said.

As of June 30, the county spent $49.7 million of the $130.2 million general fund operating budget, or 38.2 percent.

On the revenue side, the county received $104.96 million, or 80.6 percent. Most of that revenue — $98.4 million — came from real estate taxes.

In other business Tuesday, a council majority:

• Authorized a budget transfer to create a new records manager position that will pay $45,000 to $55,000.

• Approved a new lease that will allow both Wilkes-Barre magisterial offices to be located in the same building and save $60,000 annually. District Judge Thomas Malloy will move into a building at 100 Hazle St. owned by Freeman Realty Inc. that is currently occupied by District Judge Richard Cronauer.

• Granted a 2-percent raise to council clerk Sharon Lawrence, who receives $40,000, but delayed the date it would take effect to Jan. 1, 2017 — instead of Sept. 1 — due to concerns about the timing before upcoming 2017 budget discussions.

• Sold 28 properties that were stuck in limbo in the county “repository” because nobody wanted them in past back-tax auctions. The new North East Pennsylvania Land Bank Authority purchased 10 of these properties to begin its mission to clean up abandoned and eyesore properties and put them back in productive hands.

• Rejected a proposal to collect interest and a 10-percent penalty from property owners who incorrectly received more than the one homestead tax break permitted for an owner-occupied residence.

The county recently billed 1,400 property owners a combined $345,344. The assessor’s office withdrew bills for 86 property owners to date after they submitted valid explanations. As of Tuesday afternoon, 142 bills totaling around $31,000 had been paid, officials said.

• The county also has hired a new human resources director — Angela Gavlick — at $75,000 annually, according to county records and an email Pedri sent to the council Monday night.

Mark Szot, who last filled the management position, resigned last month after admitting he had lied on his resume and convinced a friend to provide a fake job reference.

According to Pedri, Gavlick is a certified senior human resources professional and was most recently employed as corporate human resources manager at Jack Williams Tire Company Inc. She previously worked as human resources manager at Lowe’s Home Improvement and had owned Gavlick Personnel/Black Tie Staffing in Kingston for 15 years, he said.

By Jennifer Learn-Andes

Reach Jennifer Learn-Andes at 570-991-6388 or on Twitter @TLJenLearnAndes.

Reach Jennifer Learn-Andes at 570-991-6388 or on Twitter @TLJenLearnAndes.

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