Luzerne coun­cil field tak­ing shape

The Hazleton Standard-Speaker - - LOCAL - BY ERIC MARK STAFF WRITER Con­tact the writer: [email protected]­i­zensvoice.com; 570-821-2117

At least three in­cum­bents will run for re-elec­tion to Luzerne County Coun­cil this year, while at least one for­mer coun­cil­man will at­tempt to win his old seat back.

Six of the 11 county coun­cil seats will be on the bal­lot this year. Coun­cil mem­bers serve four-year terms as the leg­isla­tive body of county govern­ment.

The terms of in­cum­bents Tim McGin­ley, Eu­gene Kelleher, Robert Sch­nee, Jane Walsh Waitkus and Stephen A. Ur­ban ex­pire in Jan­uary 2020. Also on the bal­lot will be the seat that had been held by Ed­ward Bromin­ski, who re­signed last month. Coun­cil on Tues­day will ap­point some­one to fill that seat for the rest of this year.

McGin­ley, Sch­nee and Walsh Waitkus, all Democrats, this week con­firmed they plan to seek re-elec­tion.

Kelleher, a Repub­li­can and the coun­cil vice chair­man, said he will not seek another term. Kelleher said he plans to spend more time with his fam­ily.

“I’ll be 76 in De­cem­ber,” he said. “I think ev­ery day when you get up at my age is a gift.”

Also, for­mer Coun­cil­man Stephen J. Ur­ban con­firmed Thurs­day that he plans to run in the Repub­li­can pri­mary for coun­cil.

The can­di­dates

McGin­ley, 72, is a Kingston res­i­dent and the coun­cil chair­man.

Coun­cil has done a good job of re­duc­ing the crush­ing debt load the county faced a few years ago, though it still must pay hun­dreds of mil­lions of dol­lars in long-term debt over the next decade, McGin­ley said.

Coun­cil has also en­cour­aged eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment ef­forts in the county, such as the series of in­dus­trial parks that NorthPoint De­vel­op­ment is build­ing in Hanover Twp. and Nan­ti­coke, he said.

Coun­cil mem­bers “need to be very care­ful about the bud­get process,” es­pe­cially in years such as 2019 when the county’s re­serve fund is nearly de­pleted, McGin­ley said.

He cited im­prove­ments to the county’s roads and bridges as a pri­or­ity.

Sch­nee, 59, of Su­gar­loaf Twp., said coun­cil has worked hard for county res­i­dents dur­ing his three-plus years in of­fice.

“I just want be part of the team that keeps the county mov­ing for­ward,” he said.

Coun­cil worked to elim­i­nate pro­posed tax in­creases in the last two county bud­gets, Sch­nee said. Coun­cil has also en­cour­aged job growth by work­ing with de­vel­op­ers such as NorthPoint, he said.

Sch­nee said he en­joys work­ing with his fel­low coun­cil mem­bers.

“They are some of the finest people I have ever come across,” he said. “That’s why I am run­ning again. We might dis­agree but we get things done.”

Walsh Waitkus, 70, of Dor­rance Twp., said her work on coun­cil “is not yet fin­ished.”

In par­tic­u­lar, she cited the work of coun­cil’s real es­tate com­mit­tee, which she chairs. The com­mit­tee, work­ing with sev­eral county de­part­ments, has helped to iden­tify nu­mer­ous prop­er­ties that county of­fi­cials did not re­al­ize the county owned, she said.

Walsh Waitkus cited the need to re­pair the county’s crum­bling bridges. She also said she was happy coun­cil was able to adopt two con­sec­u­tive bud­gets with no tax in­crease.

“I re­ally en­joy serv­ing on coun­cil,” she said. “I lis­ten to people. I’ve taken it upon my­self to lis­ten to tax­pay­ers.”

Stephen J. Ur­ban, 45, of Wilkes-Barre, served on coun­cil from 2012 to 2015, be­fore los­ing a bid for re-elec­tion.

He said coun­cil needs some­one with ex­pe­ri­ence in busi­ness and man­ag­ing bud­gets.

“The county is go­ing in the wrong di­rec­tion,” he said. “I think they can do a bet­ter job with fi­nances and the bud­get. The pri­or­ity is ... to be fis­cally re­spon­si­ble.”

Stephen J. Ur­ban said he plans to speak for the county’s tax­pay­ers and op­pose mea­sures such as a re­cently en­acted $5 ve­hi­cle regis­tra­tion sur­charge to fund road and bridge re­pairs.

The one in­cum­bent up for re-elec­tion whose plans were not clear as of Thurs­day is Stephen A. Ur­ban, a Demo­crat and the father of Stephen J. Ur­ban.

The se­nior Ur­ban could not be reached for com­ment. Like McGin­ley, he has served on coun­cil since its in­cep­tion.

Also, for­mer coun­cil­women Elaine Mad­don Curry and Eileen Sorokas ap­plied to fill the seat va­cated by Bromin­ski for the rest of this year, but both say they will not seek a four-year coun­cil seat.

The first day for can­di­dates to cir­cu­late nom­i­nat­ing pe­ti­tions is Feb. 19. The pri­mary elec­tion is May 21.

Coun­cil mem­bers are paid $8,000 per year ex­cept for the chair­per­son, who is paid $10,500.

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