Luzerne County is still paying $256,513 per month to lease a Pittston Township juvenile detention center, even though commissioners voted to end the lease in February.
County solicitor Jim Blaum said Tuesday there’s a delay in the required termination agreement between the county and PA Child Care LLC, which owns the building.
Commissioners are eager to sign a termination agreement, he said. However, PA Child Care representatives have indicated they won’t sign off until they successfully negotiate juvenile lodging rates with the state Department of Public Welfare, Blaum said.
The state’s challenge of the rates charged to lodge youth at the facility had prompted commissioners to vote to terminate the lease.
Welfare Department representatives said the state won’t provide reimbursement at the current rates because PA Child Care is receiving too much profit from the lease. County officials say the resulting estimated $2 million in lost funding per year would hamper their ability to cover the $48 million, 20-year lease, which was approved by Commissioner Greg Skrepenak and former commissioner Todd Vonderheid in 2004.
PA Child Care owners Robert Powell and Gregory Zappala dispute the state’s calculations and have been going back and forth with the state, county officials say.
PA Child Care spokesman Dan Fee said the company is keeping its promise to negotiate a termination -- something it was not obligated to do, Fee said.
“PA Child Care is willing to end the lease, but a series of things have to be taken care of,” Fee said Tuesday. “It’s not contentious. It’s complicated.”
Blaum said county officials have been advised that negotiations between the state and PA Child Care are “ongoing.”
“Commissioners are ready, willing and able to sign a termination agreement. We had hoped it would’ve happened at the end of February,” Blaum said.
Skrepenak, who has been heavily criticized for approving the lease, said Tuesday he does not understand why PA Child Care is linking the state negotiations to the contract termination. He said PA Child Care owes it to the county to end the lease because the lease amount was based on the company’s insistence that the payment rates were locked in.
Luzerne County has been charging $302 per day for detention and $335 for treatment, county officials say.
In addition to the lease, the county pays Mid-Atlantic Youth Services around $318,000 per month to staff and run the 60-bed facility, which provides detention and treatment to juvenile offenders from Luzerne and other counties.
“I always felt that if the state came in and said the rates weren’t OK, that the lease should be null and void,” Skrepenak said.
Fee said Powell, an attorney, lives in Luzerne County and is committed to making sure the county gets the opportunity to reserve bed space.
“There is an outstanding demand for all the beds at this facility. They can fill them without the county, but then the Luzerne County kids would have to go somewhere else,” Fee said.
County minority Commissioner Stephen A. Urban, who has always been critical of the lease, said he believes PA Child Care should immediately sign the termination agreement.
“PA Child Care is willing to end the lease, but a series of things have to be taken care of.”