Carbon County will try to operate its litter crew program with a few changes this year.
During the monthly meeting of the county salary board on Thursday, Commissioner Charles Getz made a motion to establish two positions for Liquid Fuels summer supervisors. Commissioner Wayne Nothstein provided a second, with an addition stating that this action would take place only if the county received approval from the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation. This second, according to the board, was not valid because it was not what the initial motion stated.
Prior to any action, the board discussed the matter, bringing up the issues that caused the debate.
Getz explained that the way the county operated its litter crew last year, using two corrections officers and inmates, was questioned by the auditor, because they said the county could not use Liquid Fuels funds to pay corrections officers. But, prior to the auditor's rejection; the county was told by representatives in Harrisburg that the county could handle the program in this matter.
To alleviate this issue, the county decided to hire two qualified individuals as supervisors for the program through the county and continue to use low risk inmates who were deemed eligible for the alternative work program – a program designed to let inmates work 24 hours and receive one day off their sentence. The county would then pay the supervisors through the alternative work program and Liquid Fuels funds.
Nothstein said he agreed that the program is needed, but he felt moving forward on hiring two supervisors was premature and the county should wait to hear what the state had to say. The county contacted state officials in April, but have not yet received an answer on whether this option will work.
He added that he thinks the state needs to make policy changes on the Liquid Fuels program.
Nothstein pointed out that the Liquid Fuels fund also includes bridge repairs and he stated that there are many bridges in the county that are in need of repairs.
Randall Smith, county administrator then asked if the condition was attached to the motion or if the motion stood with no second.
Commissioner William O'Gurek, chairman, explained that there was no second to the motion as it was read. Nothstein then said he would withdraw his amended second, and O'Gurek made the second.
The motion then passed 3-1, with Nothstein casting the sole "no" vote.
Following the action, O'Gurek explained his reasoning behind making the second and voting in favor of hiring two supervisors.
"I'm hopeful that Harrisburg will understand, because in the past they allowed us to hire Liquid Fuels supervisors to supervise individuals cleaning up the highways. Today's action, in my mind, establishes Liquid Fuels supervisors who will supervise individuals cleaning up the highways. Before when auditors said 'no,' we had a situation of paying corrections officers to supervise individuals. We have now ceased those operations.
"We also received approximately $4,200 for an alternative work program at the prison so we can use that money to pay for expenses associated with that process. My idea is to use that money first for alternative work so we're going to move things around. I think what we're doing is eliminating the state's concern that the supervisors were the prison's expense."
He added, "All three of us want clean highways, nice communities and nice towns for visitors to come into, to see the beauty of Carbon County. That's not the question. The question is how do we effectively get it done with the monies that are available to us without going into the general fund. I am hopeful this will work."
O'Gurek noted that he understood Nothstein's concern regarding the state's decision on if this action was okay, but he feels the "situation is different now and the answer will be yes."
The Liquid Fuels program, which included a litter crew, has gone through some changes over the last few years.
In the past, college students were hired by the county during the summer to clean up the litter along the county highways, but Getz felt it was the wrong time to do the program because the grass had already grown high, covering much of the litter. He pushed for having inmates go out and clean the roads during the spring, when the grass was low. At the time, the county was spending around $50,000 in Liquid Fuels funds annually on the program.
It was then decided that using college students for the litter crew would be discontinued.
The inmate litter crew then began.
Low risk inmates who were deemed eligible for the alternative work program, were taken out daily by corrections officers and cleaned the highways.
Getz explained that this option cut down the costs to about $7,000 a year.
In other salary board matters, the board approved the following motions:
Ÿ Change the rate of one department clerk III from $11.26 per hour, to $11.60 per hour, effective July 12.
Ÿ Change the rate of one district justice office supervisor from $17.31 per hour, to $17.83 per hour, effective July 12.
Ÿ Establish the position of one summer clerk* at $8 per hour, effective July 7.
Ÿ Establish the position of one part-time K-9 officer* at $8.56 per hour, effective July 7.
Ÿ Excluded from retirement plan, not anticipated to work 1,000 hours.