Staff Shortages Noted, Progress Made on Broadband, Prison Woes Grow

Participants in the July 19 meeting of the Wyoming County commissioners included (top, from left) solicitor Paul Litwin III, commissioners Tom Henry, Rick Wilbur and Ernie King, and chief clerk Bill Gaylord.

Photos and story by Rick Hiduk

(Exclusive to readers)

There are now nearly as many inmates boarded out as there are currently housed at the Wyoming County Correctional Facility, according to Warden Ken Repsher who delivered the bad news at this morning’s monthly meeting of the Wyoming County Prison Board. The facility is currently down 10 full-time corrections officers, and there has been little progress on hiring new employees despite sign-on and retention bonuses offered.

Several successful applicants have gone through training, at which point they get a three dollar per hour pay increase, but all but one left for higher paying jobs. Private businesses, Repsher noted, are paying three to four dollars more per hour for security guards. Most of the 36 inmates remaining at the prison are awaiting sentencing, after which they too could be sent elsewhere.

According to commissioner chair Rick Wilbur, Wyoming County’s pay scale is in line with neighboring counties at just over $14/hr to start and an increase when training is completed.

Commissioner Tom Henry added that other counties aren’t offering bonuses. “We’re competitive and offer great insurance,” he remarked.

County district attorney Joe Peters asked if increasing the amount of the bonuses would help, since the county has already spent in excess of $90,000 to outsource inmates.

Repsher shook his head with doubt, saying that most applicants walk away as soon as they see what the job pays. In the meantime, he maintained, the prison staff that remains are doing everything they can to ensure that everything is taken care of.

Broadband Improvements Coming Next Summer

During the regular commissioners meeting that followed the prison board meeting, Wilbur said that negotiations are underway with Connex, an IT solutions provider, to provide “final mile” installations to extend internet services into rural areas.

We’re going to try to do something in our area that has never been done before,” Henry related. “If we can do that, we can take care of the whole county.”

Wilbur noted that there are several parties addressing the broadband situation at different levels, from the federal government on down. The commissioners recently met with Sen. Bob Casey, who they said commended them for being organized and having a good plan.

He said that the next time he visits, he hopes to be bringing a big check,” Henry stated.

Other parties involved include the Northern Tier Planning Commission and the Pennsylvania Broadband Development Authority, which is creating an 11-member board in place to handle the distribution of more than $50-billion in broadband funding coming to Pennsylvania over the next year.

In addition to the county’s hilly terrain, commissioner Ernie King cited low population density as a hurdle to getting a large company to run lines everywhere they are needed. Most companies require at least 25 potential hookups per square mile to expand service, and Wyoming County averages six residencies or less. In the meantime, King related, Wyoming County rates sixth from the bottom in terms of internet power. In the past few days, the FCC raised connectivity standards to 100 mbs for downloads, and Wyoming County is below 20 mbs.

Park Transfer Snafu Reported

At their last public meeting two weeks ago, the commissioners said that they had hoped to approve the transfer of Seneca Trail Park, formerly Roadside Rest, from Eaton Township back to the county, but they hadn’t received the required paperwork from the township. After more than a week of trying to track down the Eaton Township supervisors to find the document and get their signatures on it, the commissioners learned on July 15 that the paperwork had been in the courthouse all along, sitting on a desk in another department.

It may have been an accident, but it wasn’t a good thing,” Henry said, adding that there were some “terse” moments in the courthouse for a short time following the discovery. The commissioners would not divulge what department had been holding the documents, though they were clearly unhappy that they had been left in the dark. “We were making fools of ourselves,” Wilbur remarked, “and it was here the whole time.”

A half dozen volunteers who have been working on the park project for almost two years were on hand to learn of the peculiar twist in the saga, waiting for word on when a proposed recreational committee would be formed by the county so they would have the authority to continue their efforts.

Commissioner Wilbur said that he was unable to discuss the situation further until the official switchover on July 27 that will include a transfer of funds held by the township on behalf of the volunteer group.

New Summer Camp Make Impression on Commissioners

The commissioners were invited to Camp Le’mala, formerly St. Michael’s School and then EIHAB Services, to see the progress that had been made on the property since its purchase two years ago. More than 200 summer campers and their families were on site during the visit.

According to commissioner King, camp administrators would like to start a food distribution program for area students during summer months when they are not getting food assistance at school. County human services director John Alunni will work with them to try to get the program, which they have conducted successfully in urban areas, up and running next summer. Camp administrators were also hoping that the commissioners could help them through some issues that are preventing them from using a pond on the property for recreational purposes.

Electronic Recycling planned for September

The county’s twice-per-year electronic recycling program will return on Saturday, Sept. 17. Preregistration is required and can be done online at or by phone at 570-836-0729. Recycling Center director Mike Rogers said that limiting the flow of residents through the facility to 25 per hour has made the process much more efficient and eliminated traffic problems on Route 92 at Tunkhannock Township Drive.

There is no cost for disposing of many electronics, but there are fees for others as shown below.

The commissioners commended Rogers and his staff for maintaining services at the center despite being short a number of employees.

That was the second of three references to staff shortages, the final one coming from commissioner Henry when a member of the Seneca Trail Park group asked why the landscaping around the courthouse is so unkempt. “We’re aware that there are a lot of weeds out there, but we’re short staff there too,” he stated.

A DAR Revolutionary patriots monument was recently dedicated on the west lawn of the courthouse.

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