WILKES-BARRE — Luzerne County Council could allocate some of its share of U.S. bailout funding to a local agency that fights poverty, like the Commission on Economic Opportunity, commonly known as the CEO.
The Board discussed this option during a working session on Tuesday, although any potential action will have to wait for a future voting session.
Council Vice Chairman John Lombardo and Councilman Lee Ann McDermott suggested the council use about $10 million of its share of bailout funds to directly help struggling county residents, rather than organizations , businesses, non-profit organizations or government entities.
“We all agreed that we wanted to give something back to residents in need,” McDermott said Tuesday.
The CEO already has programs in place to help these residents, but some of those programs need more funding, she said.
Lombardo said he supports giving money to struggling county residents through CEO programs, but he’s concerned that at least one of those programs — bloat — has a three-year waiting list.
“We want this money to affect people now, not three years from now,” Lombardo said.
Council chair Kendra Radle said she wasn’t sure the council should be seen as possibly favoring one local agency over the others.
Radle said “the conversation has shifted” from directly providing bailout fund relief to residents to funding established CEO programs.
Board members said they hoped to hear from a CEO representative at an upcoming business meeting. Councilor Kevin Lescavage said council needed more information before making a decision.
The county received $112.9 million in funding from the American Rescue Plan Act, an economic stimulus package that federal lawmakers approved last year. It has just over $94 million left and has received 149 funding requests totaling over $200 million.
The Board also heard on Tuesday from Robin Booth, director of Booth Management Consulting, the firm’s consultancy hired to provide administrative services related to bailout funding applications.
Board members independently review and score these nominations via an online portal. Several board members said a significant number of applications did not meet the minimum score of 60 out of 75, or 80%, to be eligible for funding.
Booth said that shouldn’t be a problem. Once the board has finished reviewing the applications, it can restructure the grading scale and recalculate the points, she said.
Board members must ensure that nominations meet criteria established by the US Treasury Department, Booth said. To be eligible for funding, applicants must show that they have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, she said.
In other cases, District Attorney Sam Sanguedolce presented his office’s 2023 budget request. As Chief Public Defender Steven Greenwald did last week, Sanguedolce told the board that retaining experienced attorneys is very difficult because the salary is too low, with a starting salary of $51,083. He urged the council to approve a pay rise in a collective agreement which will take effect next year.