Costs Rising For Luzerne County Judicial Services Departments

November 6, 2018 GMT

WILKES-BARRE — Monday’s Luzerne County budget work session focused on the district attorney’s office and county departments in the judicial records and services division.

Increases in the crime rate, the number of court cases, the number of unclaimed bodies and high employee turnover have combined to place a financial strain on those tasked with keeping order in the county, department heads told county council members.

The district attorney’s office needs $110,000 — or $100,000 more than was budgeted this year — to prepare for capital cases in 2019, when the office is scheduled to prosecute two capital homicide cases, District Attorney Stefanie Salavantis said.

The office will also need $40,000 more than it did this year to pay for examinations and expert witnesses, she said.

“Capital cases can be very costly with hiring experts and everything needed,” Salavantis said. “Because of all the homicide cases we have encountered in our office it can become quite costly.”

Overall, the proposed 2019 budget for the district attorney’s office includes $4.64 million in expenditures, an increase of about 4.9 percent over this year’s $4.42 million budgeted expenditures.

The coroner’s office needs an increase of $10,800 compared to this year to bury unclaimed bodies, county Coroner William Lisman said.

Lisman, who told council members his appearance Monday was “one last time at this rodeo” before his planned retirement early next year, said this year has seen a sharp increase in the number of unclaimed bodies for which his office is required by state law to make burial arrangements.

This year’s total of 24 unclaimed bodies has already set the record for a calendar year, Lisman said.

“All I can say is it’s a statement on society that people just don’t care,” he said.

The proposed 2019 budget for the coroner’s office includes $555,705 in expenditures, an increase of 3.5 percent over this year’s budgeted expenditures of $536,860.

The sheriff’s office needs $37,750 more next year to pay overtime, based on heavy workload and high turnover that has left the department short-handed, Sheriff Brian Szumski said.

Szumski said his office has exceeded its overtime budget for this year, due to a high number of trials and “an incredibly large number of vacancies.”

Several deputies left the sheriff’s office to take jobs with other law enforcement agencies, Szumski said.

Expenditures in the proposed 2019 budget for the sheriff’s department total $2,605,562, an increase of 5.67 percent compared to this year’s budgeted expenditures of $2,465,813.

County Manager David Pedri presented his proposed $140.95 million balanced budget for 2019 on Oct. 9. It includes a 3 percent property tax increase, to offset increases in health care costs, debt service obligations and pension obligations.

County council is holding a series of budget work sessions this fall, prior to council’s scheduled adoption of the county’s final 2019 budget on Dec. 11.

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