County takes stock of deep URS cuts
BY PAT FARNELLI
Wyoming County Press Examiner
TUNKHANNOCK – Wyoming County Commissioners opened their meeting Tuesday with feedback from United Rehabilitation Services which underwent a drastic reduction in revenue to the amount of $648,000 a year statewide.
According to Pam Pangonis, who coordinates Wyoming County’s URS program, the drop amounts to a 35 percent cut in funding vital services to people with intellectual disabilities and autism, and equated to an office furlough of 10 persons from the staff. So far, one Wyoming County URS employee, a vocational supervisor for maintenance, has been furloughed, but no programs have been cut.
Commissioner Ron Williams read a letter from Rep. Sandra Major, who although she understood fiscal responsibility wrote Gov. Tom Corbett, “I find it hard to understand why URS has received such a drastic reduction.”
“These clients need to meet their ISP’s and if they are not met, I don’t want to think what will happen,” said Lori Bennett, a parent who attended in support of URS.
Tina Muto of URS’s Wilkes-Barre office said of the cuts, “It is going to affect all of our agencies, but we are trying to work through this and stay afloat. We may have to cut some programs.”
Pangonis and Nellie Coolbaugh of the local URS told the commissioners how the clients help raise funds for the organization, by working as cleaning service providers for two contracts, by doing small parts assembly work, by conducting mailings for various organizations, and by wrapping gift bags. There is a possibility that clients may get work shredding waste paper as well.
Williams said that the first thing to do is to get the funding restored, and said that he was certain that Major and Sen. Lisa Baker would be working hard to make that happen.
He agreed that these clients need the services provided, and that it was a major priority to get their needs met.
Baker’s field representative Tom Yoniski was at the commissioners meeting and said he would relay to the senator what he learned Tuesday, as she was going to be meeting with other legislators about the URS matter in Wilkes-Barre on Wednesday.
Pangonis asked if impact fee funding could be used to help the organization with upgrading one of their vans.
Commissioner Tom Henry said that there have been many requests for funds since the county’s check was received, and that the commissioners are being extremely conservative in their decisions regarding the use of those funds.
“It has been my experience that when the government gives money, it is taken away somewhere else…and while this is certainly a good way to use funds, we have to be extremely conservative in our decisions.”
In other business, bids were opened for the planned renovation for President Judge Russell Shurtleff’s chambers, but the single bid received was not accepted.
The bid, from Marty Wilbur of Arizona Construction of LaPlume, was for $82,644 for the work for the bid specifications as written. He also included an “Option B,” for an alternative plan, for $67,595.
The judge responded that he did not need to see the bid.
“The first time we bid this job, the bids averaged $23,000,” he said. “After those bids were rejected, it was rebid, and the bids came in in the $40,000s.”
The next time, no bids were received.
“Knowing that, I cannot accept this bid,” Shurtleff said. Chief clerk William Gaylord noted that the project is budgeted at $45,000.
Bennett commented, “That impressed me, (Shurtleff) not accepting the price when it was cheaper before.”
Commissioner Judy Kraft Mead commented, “They will never meet those specs for that job with those (low) bids.”
The commissioners signed a contract for the Savin (Statewide Automated Victim Information Notification) system for the district attorney’s office.
They also approved a 5-year lease agreement for the county conservation district office at Hollowcrest, noting that the conference room will be shared with the Natural Resources Conservation Service office.
The commissioners will advertise a county planner/ flood plain manager position on Dec. 5 and 12, and will accept resumes for that job until Dec. 14, so that the person hired can be trained by present county planner Paul Weilage before he retires in February.
Benefits will have to be considered during a December meeting.
Williams said that he has been appointed to represent the county on the Criminal Justice Commission, which will hold its first meeting in March.
Union negotiations were scheduled for 10:30 a.m., after the commissioner meeting was adjourned. A work session was also planned for Thursday.