Sen. Ward: State prison closure to cause '$20 million damage' to Westmoreland
By Richard Gazarik
Published: Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2013, 12:45 p.m.
When the state prison in Hempfield closes this summer, the local economy and municipal governments will lose an estimated $20 million in revenue, according to state Sen. Kim Ward.
The Hempfield Republican, who chairs the Senate's Community, Economic and Recreational Development Committee, said the closing of SCI Greensburg and the loss of 370 jobs will have a “trickle-down effect” that will impact local government and businesses. The $20 million figure comes from information gathered by her committee staff, she said.
For Hempfield, the closing means the loss of $20,000 in local service taxes, said manager Andy Walz. The loss of earned income tax hasn't been determined, he said.
Ward was among a group of state lawmakers, county and local officials who met privately Tuesday in Hempfield with officials from Gov. Tom Corbett's office, and the departments of Corrections, Labor and Industry, Community and Economic Development and General Services to discuss the impact of the June 30 closure of SCI Greensburg.
The meeting was not announced and was closed to reporters and the public.
Christopher Abruzzo, Corbett's deputy chief of staff, said the meeting was closed because “it was just a meeting with local officials to tell them what services our offices can give.” He said state officials wanted a “free and open dialogue.”
Ward said although she asked that the meeting be open to the public, corrections officials asked that it be private.
“They called the shots. There was nothing secret here,” Ward said.
Lance Burkholder, president of the Pennsylvania State Corrections Officers Association, said he was asked to leave the meeting before it started.
“I feel that's not right,” he said. “There's something going on they don't want us to know. We should be allowed in there. I don't consider us public because our families are being directly affected.”
Corrie Rigney, the wife of a corrections officer, was escorted out of the meeting room. She said her husband will have to travel to SCI Pine Grove in Indiana County to work.
“We have a right to know. We are involved. This is a kick in the face,” she said.
Ward said she was pleased that the Department of Corrections has opened job positions that were closed to accommodate corrections officers from SCI Greensburg who would have been forced to accept transfers far from home.
“We were so, so nervous that people would have to move out of the area,” Ward said.
Once the prison closes, the state Department of General Services will take control of the property and try to market it. Ward said she will ask Corbett to include money in his next budget to demolish the facility, located off Route 119. Without the demolition, the property will be harder to market, she said.
“Who is going to buy an old, dilapidated prison?” she asked. “It's the least the state can do after taking $20 million out of our economy. That would really help us to blunt the impact.”
Abruzzo said closing the Hempfield facility and another prison in Cresson, Cambria County, makes economic sense because of “less expensive bed space and safer prisons” in the newer facilities. SCI Greensburg opened in 1969 after it was constructed as the Westmoreland County Jail in the 1960s.
About 2,500 inmates from Hempfield and Cresson will be transferred to SCI Pine Grove in Indiana County and SCI Benner in Centre County. Corrections Secretary John Wetzel said it costs the state $110 a day to house an inmate in the Hempfield facility. At Benner, the cost will be $78 a day, he said.
“It was not an easy decision, not an easy decision,” Abruzzo added.
State Rep. Mike Reese, R-Mt. Pleasant, said he wasn't satisfied with the state's presentation.
“I'm still concerned with the numbers,” he said. “That concern is still there.”
Westmoreland County Commissioner Chuck Anderson said state officials gave no hint of what they intend to do with the facility.
“As of right now, there's no plan in place,” Anderson said. “This is a work in progress.”
Richard Gazarik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-830-6292 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Kovacevic: A great day to appreciate No. 68
- Steelers safety Polamalu finds himself in tough position
- Orpik skates with injured teammates
- LeBeau wants to come back as Steelers defensive coordinator
- Tractor-trailer overturns on I-70 at New Stanton exit
- Firefighters battle house fire in Bloomfield
- Penguins notebook: Popularity with female fans brings test event to Consol
- Pitt’s Donald sweeps Outland, Bednarik awards, named All-American
- Power play, penalty kill help put Penguins on another 100-point pace
- Man wounded in Mt. Lebanon apartment shooting
- Concerned parents, organizations moving to get kids moving