Luzerne council field taking shape
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.
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.