Wyoming County Specialty Courts Get Boost – ‘Heart & Soul’ Status Sought

By Rick Hiduk

(Exclusive to EndlessMtnLifestyles.com readers)

Prior to heading to the courtroom to oversee jury selection, president judge Russell Shurtleff reported to the Wyoming County commissioners on Tuesday that Pennsylvania Supreme Court chief justice Thomas Saylor approved the DUI court (aka – Drug Treatment Court) conducted jointly by Sullivan and Wyoming counties for another three years. Shurtleff noted that the Drug Treatment Court here was only the second in the state when it was founded.

I’m thrilled that we have been accredited again,” he stated. Both counties also received the green light to start up a joint Veterans Court after agreeing on a memorandum of understanding with the Veterans Administration. Veterans in the court system with substance use disorders will now have access to treatment sources in Wyoming Valley. Mentors with varied military experience (e.g. – combat, non-combat, PTSD) are being sought. “We can pair Veterans Court clients with someone who has been through it themselves,” said Shurleff (above, right). “It’s a great day for our specialty courts.”

Veterans interested in serving as mentors are asked to submit a brief resume to the Judge’s Chambers, 1 Courthouse Square, Tunkhannock, PA 18657 and include a copy of their honorable discharge (AGO) form. The AGO, Shurtleff noted spells out what kind of duties they were performing and will assist with match-ups with clients.

Chamber Applying for “Heart & Soul” Grant

Commissioner Ernie King has been meeting with Wyoming County Chamber of Commerce president Gina Suydam and Debbie Shurtleff of the Wyoming County Alliance to learn more about the Heart & Soul program through which communities pursue revitalization efforts.

According to the website www.communityheartandsoul.org, the program solicits and compiles the wisdom and suggestions of residents from a variety of backgrounds to engage them in their community to reshape its future. King explained that Wyoming County is in Phase 2 of a four-phase program and, if successful, will receive a grant to help achieve the committee’s goals.

We have applied, and we are a finalist,” said Suydam. “We should know if we are selected by the end of the month.” The current committee also includes representatives from the Endless Mountains Visitors Bureau (EMVB) and the Endless Mountains Heritage Region.

Nineteen states, including Pennsylvania, already have official Heart & Soul communities, the closest to the Endless Mountains being Williamsport. Shared objectives between Heart & Soul communities include outreach and connectivity with residents to identify potential new leaders, building trust by finding common ground, energizing downtown areas, restoring community pride, and honoring the community’s history, culture and unique character.

Nicholson Highlighted in Agenda

The borough of Nicholson in northeast Wyoming County has been on the commissioners’ radar for a number of reasons lately. Meetings have been held there recently to address flooding issues along Martin Creek. Nicholson Borough Council is slowly moving forward with their Main Street revitalization plans. And the commissioners will meet again next week with the Nicholson Historical Association to further the renovation of the former train station there into a museum and meeting center. In a separate agenda item, the commissioners approved the Room Tax grant recommendations of the EMVB, which includes $9,000 toward the railroad station project.

Casual” Pay Increases Approved

Notes from previous meetings indicated that there might have been a gap in the acceptance several weeks ago of salaries and pay rates in the 2021 budget, especially as it effects “casual” employees – part-time employees often hired on a probationary basis until they have the proper certification and experience for their intended positions.

As part of an agreement to extend contracts for one more year, both unions voted to accept a 25 cent per hour raise with no other changes. “We never voted to make this raise effective for non-union part-time personnel, including casuals at the correctional facility,” commissioner chair Rick Wilbur noted. “It was our intent, but somehow we think this was missed.” The commissioners unanimously passed the amendment, effective Jan. 18.

Brief Prison Board Meeting Held

Current inmate population at the Wyoming County Correctional Facility stands at 35 men and four women. One male and one female are boarded out to other jails. Eight inmates headed to state prison have been held in the county jail due to a temporary moratorium on movement between facilities due to COVID concerns, but they will be transported next week.

As the pandemic continues, there has been no easing of related protocol at the jail nor any in-person visits allowed. Warden Ken Repsher said that enhancement of WiFi infrastructure at the prison will continue this week in advance of the arrival of eTablets for inmates.

We’re hopeful that we can get better service for the inmates, and provide them with educational opportunities and a better means of communication,” Repsher related.

During the commissioners meeting, the hiring of Kaitlyn Scoble, Matthew Maurer and James Gillespie as part-time corrections officers was approved.

The commissioners have a meeting coming up with Pike County about various prisoner wellness programs. “They have won some awards for innovative programs,” Wilbur explained. “We want to discuss some of those and see if we can bring them here.”

Additional Items of Interest

The commissioners approved the reappointment of James Brooks to the Wyoming County Airport Authority board chairman and president. The rest of the board consists of Ron Kukuchka, William Jaquish, Nathan Edwards, and William Earnshaw.

The commissioners sat in on a webinar hosted by the Chamber of Commerce last Wednesday during which U.S. congressman Fred Keller provided information about the latest federal COVID-relief package and the availability of a new round of Paycheck Protection Program loans. (Read about it here: http://www.endlessmtnlifestyles.com/congressman-keller-discusses-second-stimulus-package/). They suggested logging onto www.wyccc.com or calling the Chamber for more details.

Commissioners Wilbur and King are taking a grant writing course, and King has been logging in to an ongoing leadership course.

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