Wyoming Commissioners Discuss Flooding, Recovery
By D.C. Koviack
The Wyoming County Commissioners discussed the county’s flooding last week, as well as recovery efforts, at their regular meeting Tuesday morning at the Tunkhannock Courthouse. Each of the commissioners has been busy during the crisis, trying to answer the many needs of the county’s residents.
“There was just so much to be done, we tried to do what we could,” noted Commissioner Judy Mead, who said she had been in Meshoppen and had tried to get to Laceyville but was turned back because of road conditions. Mead added that she had been able to secure some much in demand dumpsters and portable toilets for communities, but had been unable to do everything that seemed to need to be done.
Commissioner Stark Bartron said he’d been kept busy in Tunkhannock and surrounding areas, while Commissioner Tony Litwin, who lives in Factoryville, said between his hometown and pitching in at the county’s 911 center, which was short-handed, he’d been busy as well. All three commissioners also toured flooded areas with state and federal officials who visited Wyoming County.
News that President Obama has signed the disaster declaration for our area was welcome, and Litwin said this meant that the county Disaster Relief Center (DRC) should be open by today (Thursday) or tomorrow. The DRC will be in the old Tunkhannock Middle School building gymnasium and will be a “one stop shop” where those affected by the floods can receive information and direct assistance. After Hurricane Irene, a disaster declaration was done for our area as well, but only covered infrastructure, not individual homes and claims. Tuesday’s declaration does include individuals, which means that people will be able to file claims for lost property, belongings and other items, and that federal dollars will be available to reimburse. In some areas, federal buyouts of devastated properties might even be an option.
About 30 families in the county are currently homeless because of the catastrophe, and the commissioners suspect there may be more that no one has counted yet. “And we don’t want anyone to feel they’ll be forgotten if they suffered during Hurricane Irene, just because the flooding from Lee has eclipsed that,” stressed Mead.
County Solicitor Jim Davis commended the county’s 911 EMA Director Gene Dziak for his capable handling of the disaster and tireless attention to people demanding answers. “He went above and beyond,” noted Davis, who heard Dziak speak at a local meeting with flood victims and was impressed with Dziak’s calm and his ability to furnish information and reassurance to the residents.
There was considerable discussion about whether or not cleaning debris from streams prior to the storms might have prevented the massive flooding. “We have got to get those streams cleaned out,” Mead insisted. It was noted that in an emergency situation, the normal DEP requirements for permits to enter a stream and remove natural items from it such as tree limbs and branches, are suspended. In addition to natural items, of course, there are now considerable quantities of rubbish in the county’s streams and rivers and much of that is washing up against bridges. This compromises their structure and inhibits free stream flow; contents and material of the rubbish may also pollute the streams and the river.
In other business, a bid from Tim Michaels for a used dump truck was accepted. His bid was the only one received. The cost is $29,600 and the truck will replace a 24-year-old one owned by the county. The dump truck is used at the county’s woodshed program, and the purchase comes at no cost to the county since the program revenues can fund it.
The Medical Assistance Luzerne-Wyoming County Transportation Agreement was signed. However, the commissioners did not agree to pay the newly-required co-pay for those residents who claim they cannot afford the co-pay. “This co-pay is one way the state’s trying to make money to offset the deficit,” noted Litwin. “And we, along with several other counties, aren’t going to pitch in with our money to help them do that.” The Homeless Assistance Program grant was received for this year in the amount of $20,871. This is down by about half from last year. The program is administered through the Commission on Economic Opportunity.
A new full-time maintenance/janitorial position has been filled. The commissioners said they had received about six applications for the job and decided to hire Al Mroz of Factoryville who has been working part-time in a similar capacity. The job is the evening/night shift.
The county’s Prison Bureau met just prior to the commissioners. Minutes from July’s meeting were accepted. The warden reported that he would like extra time to complete his 2012 budget but did not receive an answer. He also noted that several corrections officers (COs) stayed overtime to help out during the flood when scheduling was compromised because other COs could not make it in to work. The warden also noted that the medical costs for inmates this year are running very high. The commissioners reminded him that as of July 1, doctors and hospitals may only charge the Medicare rate for inmates and those who have an MA card may use it in many instances even though they are incarcerated. This is very different from the way the system has operated, and the warden replied that he has not seen the change come through yet. He said he felt that the hospitals were still in a transitional phase, learning how to implement the new law. Litwin asked Bill Gaylord, the county’s administrator, if he could go through inmate medical charges after July 1 of this year and make certain that only Medicare rates had been charged, and that the inmate’s MA card had been used whenever applicable.