Share This Page

Commissioners OK using Fayette funds to start work for new jail

| Wednesday, June 19, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

Fayette County's board of commissioners on Tuesday adopted a resolution to spend county money to perform preliminary work for the possible construction of a new county jail.

Prior to voting on the measure, the board was addressed by several county residents who requested more public information and suggested that alternatives to county construction be considered.

An undetermined amount of money would come out of the 2013 general fund and be reimbursable by any bond issue the county would ultimately float to pay for a new jail, Commissioner Al Ambrosini said.

Ambrosini seconded a motion made by Commissioner Vincent Zapotosky.

Commissioner Angela Zimmerlink voted against the resolution.

Dunbar Township resident Terry Kriss suggested two alternate possibilities: allowing a private company to construct and maintain a jail or using the vacant State Correctional Institution at Greensburg.

“You could start busing (inmates) there tomorrow,” Kriss said.

The last of the inmates were moved out of the Hempfield prison on June 3, and the Department of General Services has added the site to its list of surplus properties.

It could be on the market by July 30, said department spokesman Troy Thompson.

“This alternative would be a win-win for everybody, especially the hard-working taxpayers of this county. Who do you expect to shoulder the costs of paying for a prison for the next 30 years?” Kriss said.

As of Tuesday, said Controller Sean Lally, the county had paid more than $500,000 this year in out-of-county housing costs for prisoners.

The county jail can hold a maximum of 262 inmates. The county pays rental fees that range from $55 to $78 per day per inmate at other jails.

Ambrosini said construction costs for a new jail are estimated at $30 million.

Lally noted that if the county were to float a $30 million bond over 30 years at 3.65 percent, the total cost would be $50 million.

“We were told our population would double by 2010, it's more than tripled. We send hundreds of thousands of dollars to other counties to house our prisoners,” said Gary Brownfield, county sheriff and prison board chair.

“This prison is a dungeon. We hear complaints every day from the (correction officers). It's not good working conditions. It's totally obsolete,” he said.

A new county jail could charge for out-of-county and federal prisoners, Brownfield suggested.

“How can you build a prison and borrow $30 million to $40 million, knowing (prices) will go up, when your salary (county annual budget) is $29 million?” said Evelyn Hovanec.

She said outsourced services, including drug and alcohol rehabilitation, might be provided without full-time incarceration.

“I would love to see some other options before we make any kind of distribution of money on a plan that no one has seen. If you want this, give us your plan. Have some public meetings. Let us come talk to you and ask some questions,” Hovanec said.

Ambrosini, chairman of the working prison group, said overcrowding is only one reason to consider building a new jail.

“We cannot provide programming in our existing facility to help people. ... There are people in our prison who can't even write a check. If we don't help people in prison, we are doing nothing more than warehousing,” Ambrosini said.

Jim Killinger, prison working group architectural team leader, said sites under consideration include German, Luzerne, Dunbar Township, North Union and Franklin.

The group's final recommendations are to be presented to the public by year's end.

Mary Pickels is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-836-5401.

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.