SUNBURY — The former Celotex property in Sunbury and land adjacent to the State Correctional Institute at Coal Township are among the locations being considered to build a new Northumberland County Prison.
The revealing of those potential locations, along with the announcement that the county’s inmates will continue to be housed in state prisons, at a rate of $60 per day, were among the highlights of Tuesday’s Northumberland County commissioner’s meeting.
Prison board Chair Stephen Bridy announced that county officials met with state Secretary of Corrections John Wetzel on Tuesday morning. Bridy said Wetzel agreed to house the inmates for $60 per day.
Commissioner Chair Vinny Clausi said following the meeting the state normally charges $100 per day to house inmates.
Bridy noted that the inmates will still be lodged free of charge for 11 days under the terms of the agreement announced immediately following the prison fire which ripped through the Northumberland County Prison on Jan. 14.
Clausi said an average of 200 prisoners per day are currently being housed in state institutions, with the men being lodged in Coal Township and the women in Muncy.
Commissioner Rick Shoch noted that the $60 being charged by the state to house the inmates is just $5 more per day than what it cost the county to keep the inmates at its own facility. He also urged patience when making any decisions about the future of corrections in Northumberland County.
“We were advised by Secretary Wetzel… to avoid the temptation to do something quickly,” Shoch said. “A realistic time frame to be looking at plans for a new prison would be this time next year.”
In spite of Shoch’s advise, Clausi said the commissioners “cannot sit and wait to build the prison.”
Clausi said during the meeting that he expects to meet with Gov. Tom Wolf sometime in March to discuss possible grant sources that may be available to build a new prison.
Clausi also announced that he has contacted John Moran, owner of the former Celotex property, to begin discussions to see if that location is a viable site for a new prison.
Following the meeting, Clausi said other sites which he cannot disclose are also under consideration.
During the meeting, he revealed another site under consideration is property adjacent to SCI Coal Township.
Clausi revealed the location after two members of the Brush Valley Preservation Association, Jerry Snyder and Joe Reber, spoke against building a prison in Brush Valley.
“I don’t believe in using that area at all,” Reber said. “I believe (the prison) should be closer to Sunbury.”
Greg Stuck, an attorney from Northumberland, and Carole Mazzeo, a Sunbury resident, both spoke in favor of keeping a prison in the Sunbury area.
“We are very much in favor of keeping (the prison) here, for many reasons, economics, transportation,” Mazzeo said.
Stuck suggested the county look into an industrial property on Reagan Street as a possible location for the prison.
“Shamokin is not the county seat,” he said. “I don’t see that being a realistic place for you to stash a prison.”
He also suggested the commissioners explore temporary facilities that could be utilized.
Clausi said following the meeting the state is considering converting a warehouse at its Coal Township facility into a pre-release center for the county.
Shoch said during the meeting that he received a letter on Tuesday from Northumberland County President Judge William Harvey Wiest encouraging the county to consider looking at opening a work release center.
“You don’t always incur the same costs (with a work release center) that you do at a prison,” Shoch said. “He would also like to see both that and the prison remain within the Sunbury area. I hope that’s the direction we’re looking at.”
The commissioners voted to contract GL Companies “for assisting (Northumberland County) in developing appropriate options and solutions to the current prison crisis.”
Following the meeting, Clausi said the county has contracted with the firm for $50,000 to complete an analysis of the prison and correctional options. The study is expected to be completed in less than three months.
The commissioners also voted to extend an additional two weeks pay to part-time prison employees who are not eligible to collect unemployment compensation.
Shoch noted that the employees could be called in to work in other areas of the county during the two-week period.
“We have departments that could use people to get back filing done and inventory,” he said.
In other business, the commissioners voted to settle a lawsuit filed by Dave Kaleta.
Kaleta had filed a suit against Bridy and Clausi, claiming they violated his First Amendment rights and the Sunshine Act by denying his request to access the Northumberland County Anthracite Outdoor Adventure Area.
Following the meeting, Clausi said the settlement was for $50,000 and was mandated by the county’s insurance company to be settled.
Staff writer Kevin Mertz can be reached at 570-742-9671 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.