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Commissioners Complain about Joining with Luzerne County

Tuesday morning's Wyoming County Commissioners' meeting started off with a comment by Commissioner Tony Litwin in regard to the joinder the county is in with Luzerne County concerning the transportation service provided.

Recently, the Executive Director of the Transportation Services Department was fired and a new person hired, but Litwin said the commissioners knew nothing about it. "We didn't know about the firing, the vacancy or the hiring," he told everyone, adding that this attitude was consistent with what the county has experienced from the latest board of commissioners in Luzerne County.

"With previous boards we had a voice," he explained. "One set of commissioners gave us a third of the vote. But this board has reverted to the terms of the joinder which gives us one ninth of a vote," he said, adding that the percentages of votes were allotted based on county population. Luzerne County is a much larger and more populous county than Wyoming, but its joint agreements for state services such as transportation, Mental Health/Mental Retardation and Aging are decades old and may reflect the close relationship the two counties have always enjoyed.

Wyoming County was part of Luzerne County until the middle of the 19th century (1846) when it became autonomous. The joinder agreements, as they are called, benefit both counties: Wyoming County gets services for its citizens at a much lower rate, meaning county funds are impacted minimally. That translates into fewer tax increases directly due to these services. Luzerne County, meanwhile, gains the miles logged and residents served statistics to include when applying for grants from the state. Additionally, state funds are increasingly more likely to be awarded to groups joining in an endeavor rather than to a sole entity.

However, this didn't change Litwin's opinion that Wyoming County should have at least been notified of the personnel changes going on in a department that directly affects Wyoming County residents. "So far we've had no complaints and services don't seem to have been affected," Litwin concluded.

In other business, the county proclaimed March 31 as CASUAL Day in Wyoming County. CASUAL is an acronym for Colorectal Cancer Awareness Saves Unlimited Adult Lives, and the day is established to draw awareness to the easily curable disease. "If it's caught early, it's 100 percent curable," noted CASUAL committee member Derry Bird, who was on hand for the proclamation. Bird, from Factoryville, said that the region's average incidence of colorectal cancer is about 15 percent higher than the national average. CASUAL day was established by the family of Helen Phillips who died of colorectal cancer in 2002.

A discussion was held, prompted by the application of Northmoreland Baptist Church for exemption from tax for part of their worship structure. The use of the structure is the key to whether exemption is allowable: only structures whose use is completely church related qualify. The Northmoreland Baptist Church already receives a tax exemption for parts of its structure, i.e., the church itself, as well as kitchen areas and religious education areas. The commissioners discussed the matter along with Tax Assessment Director Eric Brown, who reiterated that the "place of stated worship" can be exempt, but other areas are up for consideration. The fact that church halls may be in separate buildings might be a consideration, but it's the use of the space, which is critical in deciding whether or not an area should be exempt. "The purpose of the Tax Assessment Office is to find as many taxable properties in a uniform manner, which can be properly put on the county's tax rolls," Brown said.

Litwin pointed out that other churches in the county are taxed on their church halls, which are used for church related functions, but also are used for community based activities like blood drives. "We have to be consistent," Litwin said. "If we tax them, we should tax everyone whose facility is used in the same fashion." Brown confirmed the fact, too, that Wyoming County, even though it does not need to and is not required to under the law, has always exempted rectories and parsonages from tax. "Sometimes I think people don't appreciate what they're already getting," commented Commissioner Judy Mead. Brown added that the time to re-visit the policy regarding church rectories and parsonages may be when the county goes through a revaluation process. The commissioners voted not to exempt the Northmoreland Baptist Church's hall area from tax per their request and to keep that church property on par with other church properties in similar use throughout the county.

Blueprints for the design of the Iroquois Trail, a two-mile nature walk from Sunnyside Cemetery to the 911 Building in Tunkhannock Township, have been approved. The money for the Trail is a $75,000 grant from Growing Greener, administered by the county's Industrial Development Au-thority. It is thought the Trail might open later this year.

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