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Vote on loan for new Fayette prison possible next week

| Saturday, Jan. 18, 2014, 12:01 a.m.

Fayette County commissioners could vote on Tuesday on whether to seek out a $10 million loan as partial financing for a $32 million prison project, a temporary women's lockup and an addition to the Children and Youth Services building.

In addition, the board will consider taking the first step toward development of a website dedicated to disseminating information on the jail project.

Commissioners Al Ambrosini and Vincent Zapotosky on Friday voted in favor of placing motions for both items on their Tuesday agenda. Angela Zimmerlink dissented.

Ambrosini said the $10 million loan will be tax exempt, as recommended by financial consultant Sam Lynch.

Contacted after the meeting, Lynch said municipalities are allowed to borrow up to $10 million annually in tax-exempt loans. Such loans are offered to borrowers at a lower interest rate, he said, because lenders and investors can claim them as tax-exempt.

Some of the borrowed money will be used to establish a temporary women's annex in Uniontown and to pay for an addition to the CYS building, Ambrosini said.

Zimmerlink said she voted against placing the loan on the upccoming meeting agenda because the motion was too vague.

With the courthouse closed on Monday for Martin Luther King Day, she said, there will be no time prior to Tuesday's meeting to obtain more details on the proposed loan.

“My fellow commissioners were unable to specifically state the type of loan, the terms, the conditions and other pertinent information in order to advance it,” Zimmerlink said.

In a related motion, Ambrosini and Zapotosky voted to advance a motion to allow the county to seek out qualifications from website developers to create a website dedicated to disseminating information on the jail.

A website is needed to provide accurate information on the project, they said.

“We'll provide the latest, updated information on where the project stands,” Ambrosini said.

The site would have a “frequently asked questions” page and would allow residents to submit questions.

Zimmerlink, who said her requests for information on the project often go unanswered, questioned who would provide details to the website developer and who would approve the information before it is posted.

“I'm not getting the information now, so I guess I would have to go to the website to see what's going on,” Zimmerlink said.

Ambrosini said the information would be provided by the prison working group, contractors and consultants. Chief Clerk Amy Revak, as the county's public information officer, could review the information before it is posted, he said.

Zimmerlink said she favors posting the information online, but she questioned the need to hire an outside firm when the county already has a website. She said the county's Information Technology Department can create a webpage for the information in one day.

Ambrosini said assigning the work to the two-person department will not work because of the “vast amount of information” to be posted.

“As we go through the stages of this project, we can't afford to have misinformation,” Ambrosini said. “It causes confusion.”

Ambrosini and Zapotosky in June voted to build the new “Fayette County Justice and Rehabilitation Center” to address overcrowding and other issues at the 125-year-old prison in Uniontown near the courthouse.

Commissioners meet 10 a.m. Tuesday in the Public Service Building in the city.

Liz Zemba is a reporter for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-601-2166 or lzemba@tribweb.com.

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