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Luzerne County’s law division is asking county council to allocate an additional $200,000 from the budgeted contingency reserve due to increased costs for past litigation settlements.

Council had approved a $500,000 allocation in the law division’s “special legal services” category in this year’s budget, and the line item is currently $100,000 over budget.

County Chief Solicitor Harry W. Skene told council at last week’s work session he expected a large $390,000 legal settlement council approved earlier this year would be funded through another source in the general fund operating budget, but it came out of his special legal services allocation.

That settlement went to the estate of a county prison inmate who died of suicide while incarcerated in 2018. It had to be paid through the general fund because the county had exhausted its insurance coverage limits due to other prison litigation settlement claims stemming from this time period, officials had said.

Skene said his division will need more than $200,000 from the contingency reserve to cover costs through the end of the year, but county Budget/Finance Division Head Brian Swetz is recommending starting with that amount to keep more funds in the reserve. Swetz said Skene’s request was for $400,000.

The county’s contingency for unforeseen emergencies had been $1.23 million last year, but a council majority reduced the 2023 reserve to $245,000 to help keep the real estate tax increase below 3%. Council subsequently boosted the contingency to more than $615,000 with transfers from an unemployment compensation dividend and state special election reimbursement. Another $18,789 reserve deposit is in the works due to state Election Integrity Grant reimbursement for non-election staff assisting in elections.

Council is expected to vote on introducing the ordinance providing an additional allocation to the law division at its next meeting Aug. 8.

Settlement

Council approved a $10,000 settlement last week to close out litigation filed by Jeremy Cieniawa.

Cieniawa alleged “various constitutional violations arising out of two incidents” while he was incarcerated at the county prison, the agenda said, adding settlement was recommended to avoid spending more money and time on the litigation defense.

Inmate medical

The county has publicly posted a request seeking proposals for prison inmate medical services.

Council had voted in June to extend the medical provider contract with WellPath LLC for six more months to allow time to publicly seek and vet all providers interested in the work.

Vendor responses are due Aug. 25, according to the request, which is 61 pages, not including addendums.

Courthouse repairs

County council members asked county Court Administrator Paul Hindmarsh last week for a detailed breakdown of courtroom projects that would be completed with a requested $415,000 capital allocation.

Hindmarsh also said he will set up tours for them to see the courtrooms.

Poll books

As reported last week, the public is invited to a demonstration of new electronic poll book options from 5:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. Thursday (Aug. 3) at the county courthouse on River Street in Wilkes-Barre. The public is reminded to enter through the courthouse basement security station on the west side of the building facing the Susquehanna River.

County officials say the current devices used for voter sign-in at polling places on Election Day are outdated and cannot be used in the Nov. 7 general election due to battery problems and other issues.

Poll books from two companies will be presented at the demonstration: Election Systems & Software and Knowink LLC.

Attendees will be asked to provide feedback on which system they prefer and the reasons.

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

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