City Of Wilkes-Barre Swears In 10 New Police Officers

WILKES-BARRE, PA — A large crowd looked on in council chambers Tuesday as 10 new city police officers were sworn in wearing suits and ties and shiny new badges, but the message was sobering.

“There will be challenging times and scary moments,” said Rev. J. Duane Gavitt, the police department’s chaplain.

Police Chief Robert Hughes said the new officers are beginning a new call to service.

“There will be late nights,” he said. “There will be middle of the night call-outs. You are prepared for this.”

Read more:

http://www.timesleader.com/news/home_top-local-news-news/152145029/W-B-swears-in-10-new-police-officers

Moving Joe Palooka Monument To Wilkes-Barre Will Punch Up Downtown, Former Councilman Says

WILKES-BARRE, PA — Former city councilman Tony Thomas wants to bring Joe Palooka back to the downtown.

Thomas has started a campaign to move the Joe Palooka monument on Route 309 in Hanover Township to Wilkes-Barre at a site yet to be determined.

Thomas will sponsor a fall wine festival Oct, 9-11 in Kirby Park to raise funds to move the monument dedicated to the famous comic strip and its creator.

But there are several questions and issues that must be resolved.

Read more:

http://www.timesleader.com/news/home_top-local-news/152127259/

Thanksgiving Payroll Snafu Cost Luzerne County Government $2,000 In Bounced Check Fees

Luzerne County ended up reimbursing employees about $2,000 for bounced check fees caused by late paychecks last November, officials said today.

County Budget/Finance Division Head Brian Swetz said about 50 employees submitted requests for fee reimbursements, most between $20 and $35.

The impact of the fees was lessened because two financial institutions waived fees — PNC Bank, which handles the county’s banking, and the Luzerne County Federal Credit Union, Swetz said.

Read more:  http://www.timesleader.com/news/local-news/152031362/

Turning Off The Gas: Region’s Last Exploratory Natural Gas Well To Be Plugged

Since the Marcellus Shale drilling boom started in 2008, seven natural gas wells have been drilled in and around Luzerne and Lackawanna counties.

Six of them were plugged when they failed to produce enough gas to market.

This week, the seventh — WPX Energy’s Martin well on state Route 487 in Sugarloaf Township, Columbia County, between Ricketts Glen and Benton — will also be shut down for good.

“From what I understand, we’re the last well to be plugged,” WPX Energy spokeswoman Susan Oliver said.

Read more:

http://citizensvoice.com/news/turning-off-the-gas-region-s-last-exploratory-natural-gas-well-to-be-plugged-1.1837326

Can The Wyoming Valley’s Platter Hold More Restaurants?

WILKES-BARRE TWP., PA — Five national chain restaurants opened in the area last year and two more are slated to open soon. Two others — Pizza Hut and Lone Star — went out of business last month.

So has area’s restaurant bubble finally popped?

No, said John Bartorillo, president of Maslow Lumia Bartorillo Advertising in Wilkes-Barre.

“Saturated? No,” said Bartorillo. “We have not reached that point yet.”

Read more:

http://www.timesleader.com/news/business-home_top/151817501/Is-there-room-for-more

Report: NEPA Region Lags In Advanced-Skilled Jobs

The Scranton/Wilkes-Barre/Hazleton area ranks near the bottom of the list of jobs leading the recovery that promise to revitalize the nation’s economy, according to a report from the Brookings Institution.

The Report, “America’s Advanced Industries: What they are, where they are, and why they matter” looked at those jobs in the nation’s 100 largest metros and ranked Scranton/Wilkes-Barre metro area 92nd.

These important jobs are leaving the area, the report noted, with Scranton/Wilkes-Barre’s employment in advanced industries falling about 2 percent every year.

Many terms have been used to describe the important sector: high-tech, STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) and now “advanced industries.” What makes understanding the sector more complex is that the field cuts across 50 industries from certain types of manufacturing and energy to computer software design and health care. A STEM job could be found just about anywhere, such as a computer programmer for a trucking company.

Read more: http://citizensvoice.com/news/report-nepa-region-lags-in-advanced-skilled-jobs-1.1826843

Wilkes-Barre Chamber Vice President Resigns

Donna Sedor, vice president at the Greater Wilkes-Barre Chamber, has resigned to begin a new leadership career with the Wyoming Valley Children’s Association, according to a letter chamber chief executive officer Wico van Genderen sent to board members.

“I fully support her in this move,” van Genderen said. “As I have said on numerous occasions, our future is our children.”

Sedor has worked for the chamber for 24 years. During her tenure, van Genderen said the chamber has witnessed several accomplishments such as the openings of business parks, the arena, major transportation initiatives and the downtown Wilkes-Barre theater project.

Read more: http://citizensvoice.com/news/w-b-chamber-vice-president-resigns-1.1826648

Wilkes-Barre Among Nation’s ‘Cheapest’ College Towns, According To New Study

WILKES-BARRE, PA — Tuition, books and direct spending aside, Wilkes-Barre is among the 30 cheapest places to go to college nationwide, according to a new analysis. The big reason: Housing is dirt cheap — about 30 percent of the national average.

Wilkes-Barre was 26th in the list, which was topped — or bottomed, cost-wise — by Memphis Tennessee, where the overall cost of living is 26.7 percent less than the national average. Don’t bother asking for the college town with the highest cost of living; the website that devised the list is, after all, cheapestcolleges.org.

Wilkes-Barre’s overall cost of living was 79.8 percent of the national average, But a look at the numbers under that percentage show we aren’t all that cheap in most categories.

Of six categories used to judge the cost of living, Wilkes-Barre is higher than the national average in four — miscellaneous, transportation, utilities, and groceries — and just under the national average (97 percent) in health costs. But, boy, do we make up for it housing.

Read more: http://www.timesleader.com/news/local-news-news/151499742/

Two Nabbed In Wilkes-Barre Drug Raid; Home Shut Down

Two men face multiple drug charges following a raid at a Wilkes-Barre home on Thursday.

Wilkes-Barre police and state police executed a search warrant at 284 N. Washington St. at about 12:30 p.m. Thursday, police said in a news release.

Police said they found “distribution quantities” of cocaine, heroin and marijuana in the home and arrested Louis Soto, 25, and Brian Lulewicz, 30. The men were taken into custody without incident, police said. An investigation by city and state police revealed that the two men were selling large quantities of heroin and cocaine from the residence and were armed, according to police.

Read more: http://citizensvoice.com/news/two-nabbed-in-w-b-drug-raid-home-shut-down-1.1822054

PennDOT To Study Creating Northeast Pennsylvania Transit Authority

Northeastern Pennsylvania public transit riders may eventually take buses directly between Scranton and Wilkes-Barre, rather than having to transfer to a different bus in Pittston to make the trip.

Lackawanna and Luzerne County officials envision new travel options — like a direct bus link between the cities — among many benefits of merging several mass transit agencies in both counties into a single Lackawanna-Luzerne Regional Transportation Authority.

The state Department of Transportation hired consultant HNTB Corp. to study the move, which would create the state’s third largest transportation authority. The cost of the study was not available Monday.

If it happens, Lackawanna and Luzerne county officials foresee having more clout to attract state and federal grant money to improve Northeastern Pennsylvania’s transportation network for buses, the region’s growing rail industry and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton International Airport.

Read more: http://citizensvoice.com/news/penndot-to-study-creating-northeast-pennsylvania-transit-authority-1.1819613

Pizza Hut, Lone Star Closing Kidder Street Locations

WILKES-BARRE, PA — Two more national brand eateries announced on Monday that they are closing their doors.

One week after its Hanover Township restaurant closed, and following two years of disappointing sales on a national level, Pizza Hut announced that its Kidder Street location also will shut down this week.

And Lone Star Steakhouse, part of a chain that features a Texas-inspired menu, will close its Kidder Street location this weekend. Employees at the restaurant confirmed Monday that the restaurant would close permanently on Saturday.

No one at Lone Star corporate offices in Plano, Texas, could be reached for comment.

Read more: http://www.timesleader.com/news/business-local-news-news/151386496/

Hazleton Council Overrides Mayor’s Veto, Passes 2015 Budget

During a special meeting Friday, Hazleton City Council voted to override Mayor Joseph Yannuzzi’s veto of the council’s proposed budget and then adopted that spending plan for 2015.

It means there will be no property tax increase for city residents and it also means that council voted to allocate money for the city to hire part-time police officers.

All this happened — but not without confusion, hand wringing and much discussion.

The confusion started when council had to call Councilman Jeff Cusat in order for him to vote on agenda items. Cusat had a prior engagement and did not attend the meeting in person but did cast his votes via telephone.

Read more: http://standardspeaker.com/news/hazleton-council-overrides-mayor-s-veto-passes-2015-budget-1.1815211

Laflin Borough, Former Police Chief Settle Lawsuit

A federal lawsuit filed by a former police chief against Laflin Borough was settled this week, courts documents show.

Former borough police Chief Michael Flanagan filed the suit Nov. 25, 2013, against the borough, as well as its council members, that was dismissed Thursday, court documents show, because both parties reached a settlement — which was not disclosed in court documents.

Attorney Cynthia L. Pollick, who represented Flanagan in the suit, did not return messages seeking comment on the settlement. Attorneys representing the borough and its council, Christopher Tinari and Michael Miller of Philadelphia, also did not return messages.

According to the lawsuit, Flanagan felt he was “wrongfully demoted without just cause.” The suit also said Flanagan had been an employee of the borough for more than 14 years and went on to say on or about Oct. 17, 2013 when “the defendants voted at an official borough meeting to demote plaintiff and hired another police chief.”

Read more: http://citizensvoice.com/news/laflin-borough-former-police-chief-settle-lawsuit-1.1815135

Drugs, Gun Seized In Wilkes-Barre Raid

The Wilkes-Barre Police Anti Crime Unit and the Wilkes-Barre Drug Task force raided a residence on Blackman Street on a drug warrant early Wednesday morning.

The raid was a result of an ongoing investigation targeting drug trafficking in the Rolling Mill Hill section of the city and its surrounding areas, police said.

The investigation revealed Julio “Cesar” Fortuna, 21, was dealing large quantities of high-grade marijuana from his residence and the surrounding streets, police said. Authorities raided 431 Blackman St. around 6 a.m. Wednesday and took Fortuna into custody without incident, police said.

Read more: http://citizensvoice.com/news/drugs-gun-seized-in-wilkes-barre-raid-1.1813789

Veto Sets Up Hazleton Budget Showdown

Hazleton Mayor Joseph Yannuzzi vetoed a nearly $9.3 million budget for 2015 that was ratified by city council about a week ago.

Yannuzzi announced the development in memorandums to city council on Monday and will for a second consecutive year set up a budget showdown with the governing body. A dispute over competing versions of the 2014 budget went before a judge and has not yet been resolved.

The mayor said he vetoed an ordinance that sets the tax rate and related legislation because they do not conform with the version of the budget that he presented.

Yannuzzi listed 12 reasons in a second memorandum for vetoing a fourth budget-related ordinance and argues that amendments made by council leave the city with an unbalanced budget.

Read more: http://standardspeaker.com/news/veto-sets-up-hazleton-budget-showdown-1.1812842

Wilkes-Barre City Council Chooses New Chairperson

WILKES-BARRE, PA — Mike Merritt will lead city council in 2015.

The former vice chair and former council chair Bill Barrett traded places Monday, when the five-person council selected Merritt to take over as chairman and Barrett as vice chairman in consecutive unanimous decisions.

Merritt addressed the council at the conclusion of the meeting, promising to work with them to kept the city “moving in the right direction.”

The council also passed ordinances establishing the 2015 holiday and meeting schedules.

Read more: http://www.timesleader.com/news/news/50981547/

Video Signage In Wilkes-Barre To Promote Genetti Businesses And Area Non-Profits

WILKES-BARRE, PA — Two outdoor video signs on a downtown building are for the birds and other wildlife for the time being, until a software switch replaces them with ads.

The signs atop the building owned by hotelier Gus Genetti on the corner of North Street and North Pennsylvania Avenue have been up for a few weeks. On Friday he said that they should be displaying advertisements for his facilities and promoting area non-profit organizations by the end of next week.

The transition has been delayed because of a switch to a different program to run the ads after difficulties arose with the original software, Genetti explained. “We’re waiting to be trained on the program,” he said.

Read more: http://www.timesleader.com/news/local-news-news/50967407/

Man Stopped On I-80 Found With 150 Bags Of Heroin In Rectum

An Altoona man had 150 bags of heroin stashed in his rectum and had to have the drugs removed at a hospital, according to state police at Hazleton.

Dennis L. Vanriper was a passenger in a vehicle that troopers stopped for several traffic violations on Interstate 80 west in Nescopeck Township at about 3 a.m. Friday, police said.

Read more: http://standardspeaker.com/news/man-stopped-on-i-80-found-with-150-bags-of-heroin-in-rectum-1.1806894

Movement Underway In NEPA Counties, Cities To Form Land Banks

When General Motors shut down factories in Michigan, the city of Flint lost more than 70,000 auto industry jobs, resulting in an exodus of residents from the 1980s through today that left the city with half the population of its heyday.

The crisis created a cycle of abandonment and blight that prompted the region to create the Genesee County Land Bank, which spearheaded several major redevelopment projects in the city’s downtown, sold 4,683 tax-foreclosed properties from 2004-13 and demolished 3,400 buildings.

Some public officials in Northeastern Pennsylvania cities like Scranton and Hazleton have been thinking of forming their own land banks since Gov. Tom Corbett last year signed legislation enabling cities around the state to do so. Pittston and several neighboring Luzerne County municipalities recently created their own version.

“One issue we all face, that we really have a hard time fighting at the municipal level, is blight,” said Larry West, regional director for state Sen. John Blake, D-Archbald. “We have buildings sitting there on the tax repository list that are boarded up or have burned down.”

Read more: http://citizensvoice.com/news/movement-underway-in-nepa-counties-cities-to-form-land-banks-1.1806370

Hazleton Council OKs $9.28M Spending Plan

Property taxes will not increase in Hazleton in 2015, according to a tentative $9.28 million spending plan that city council approved Wednesday.

But it will cost more to sell a property.

Council approved on second reading a balanced, $9.28 million budget that eliminates a tax increase that the mayor wanted to implement for awarding raises to a handful of nonunion employees. The budget also scraps a controversial maintenance fee for the stormwater system.

The spending plan approved Wednesday makes up for that lost tax and stormwater revenue by infusing $400,000 from a defunct sewage transmission fee account into other parts of the general fund budget. The city’s share of the real estate transfer tax was also increased by 0.5 percent — to 1 percent — and boosts revenue projections by $150,000.

Read more: http://standardspeaker.com/news/hazleton-council-oks-9-28m-spending-plan-1.1804580