Decrease in Mental Health Services Alarms Commissioners – Stormwater Project Gets Boost

The old main entrance to the Wyoming County Courthouse has seen better days, but new doors will be installed that are designed to maintain the historical integrity of the old ones while also having modern security features.

Photo and story by Rick Hiduk

(exclusive to readers)

At the Tuesday morning public meeting of the Wyoming County Commissioners, it was announced that U.S. Sen. Bob Casey had included $325,000 in community project funding that will directly benefit Wyoming County. The money will be used to divert storm water runoff from the Wyoming County Correctional Facility and Tunkhannock Borough streets into a dedicated stormwater system.

When the current prison was built, commissioner chair Rick Wilbur explained, it was acceptable to pipe rain water directly into the sewer system. In recent years, however, the PA DEP has modified regulations to prevent stormwater from overwhelming municipal sewer systems. The project is one of 10 in Northeast Pennsylvania that Casey earmarked portions of $8-million through the Senate Fiscal Year 2023 Appropriation Bill. Wilbur Credited commissioner Ernie King with spearheading the effort, which will keep the county from having to use American Rescue Plan (ARP) funds for the project.

The commissioners also sent out an application this morning for a $90,592 Election Integrity Grant. State mandates in recent years for counties to reinvest in election security was putting a strain on the budget that the commissioners had long contended was unfair. The funds can be used for a variety of election expenses, including printing ballots and paying poll workers. The amount is based on population and has already been approved.

The commissioners voted to approve the allocation in the coming year of $50,000 in liquid fuel funds that can be used by municipalities within the county toward infrastructure projects. In the past, the projects have varied in scope and cost, and the commissioners said the amounts given to municipalities has averaged between $3,000 and $5,000. Municipal leaders should look for the grants to be advertised soon.

The commissioners accepted a bid for $31,000 from Carriage Barn Builders of Scott Township to replace the large doors at the old main entrance of the courthouse facing Warren Street. The archway will also be recreated. According to Wilbur, the doors will be custom-made to be historically accurate while also being much more secure than the current ones. The Wyoming County Historical Society has been involved in the planning. $24,000 will come from a Judicial Grant from funds reserved by president judge Russell Shurtleff, and the remaining $7,000 will come from the county’s general maintenance budget.

The commissioners were disappointed to report that funding for mental health services from the state had remained flat from the previous year, despite the recent plea via a letter composed by county human services director John Alunni asking for an increase. “We had been anticipating more that would have allowed improved and expanded services,” Wilbur stated.

On the same topic, the commissioners acknowledged the upcoming closure by Commonwealth Health (CH) of First Hospital in Kingston, Luzerne County, as well as its affiliated outpatient services. The reason given by CH was a decline in staffing that followed the corporation’s decision to curtail intakes after a riot in June involving staff and juvenile patients who were there for psychiatric treatment.

Wyoming County youths dealing with mental health issues have routinely been admitted to First Hospital over the years. In fact, commissioner Tom Henry noted, there are local youths at the facility currently.

Don Nowland of the Burke Center in Tunkhannock spoke to the commissioners via Zoom and expressed his concerns that the closure would put a strain on already taxed mental health providers in Wyoming County and asked if a meeting could be arranged to come up with a game plan to address the issues.

John Alunni, who was present at the meeting, said that he had already been on the phone this morning with Tara Fox of Luzerne-Wyoming County Mental Health and Disabilities Services to seek solutions to the problem. Henry, who is the current president of the MHDS board said, “We are all very concerned, and we will do whatever we can.”

On the topic of Commonwealth Health as it pertains to Tyler Memorial Hospital in Tunkhannock, Wilbur confirmed that negotiations are stepping up, and he hopes to have some good news to report in the coming weeks. Of several health care providers that have expressed an interested in taking over the all but shuttered facility, one is extremely interested and top level discussions between CEOs have ensured.

King noted that, in his experience with Commonwealth Health, the for-profit corporation has always been quick to close facilities and discontinue any services that are not producing enough profit.

One agenda item that had Wilbur hot under the collar was tabled after a brief discussion and a request by the county’s chief assessor to put off an immediate decision. At issue is the county’s Comp Time policy, which some county employees are tapping instead of their allotted vacation days to take time off.

A certain few people are abusing the hell out of it,” Wilbur remarked, adding, “Right now, I’ve got a very bad taste in my mouth about it.” He suggested that the abusers are mostly managers.

Cathy Voda spoke up and related that she had helped to craft the original Comp Time policy years prior to Wilbur and King being elected to the board. She said that she was speaking for the managers when she asked for some time to work on some guidelines to keep the policy in place rather than abandon it completely. The commissioners agreed, and the measure was tabled.

Prior to the start of the meeting, commissioner Henry took a moment to acknowledge the passing of two long-time county employees. Betty Carpenter had retired from the county around 2007 after more than 19 years of employment, including working as support staff for the judge. Tom Edwards worked in Juvenile Probation and retired around 2001.

1 Comment

  1. I appreciate your reports from the meetings. Good old fashioned reporting without opinion from the editor. No slanting reports. Thank you!!!

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