2011-04-14 / Front Page

Wide Range Of Topics Discussed At Town Meeting

June 2 town meeting cancelled due to conflicting schedules
By Chanin Rotz-Mountz

Adhering to the rules announced at the start of last Thursday evening’s town meeting, the crowd debated a variety of topics with the Fulton County commissioners ranging from the county’s only union contract to repairing the pillars at the Fulton County Courthouse.

Commissioner Bonnie Mellott Keefer opened the meeting at the Green Hill Sewing Club, asking residents to refrain from posing questions until their presentation was concluded. Keefer further stated that each of the 27 individuals in attendance would then be afforded an opportunity to ask a question before being given a second or third chance for follow-up comments.

Unlike the commissioners’ March meeting at Thompson Township, where questions and comments were randomly shouted from the crowd and other individuals were spoken over, order was maintained even though residents came with a multitude of questions.

High on many people’s lists of concerns is a perception of overspending by the county. Providing details on annual expenditures and revenue, Commissioner Keefer noted 60 percent of the county’s income is from taxes. Twenty-two percent is in the form of federal and state operating grants, while 7 percent is from the prior year’s surplus.

In comparison, 54 percent of the county’s expenditures are linked to salaries and benefits. The next largest expenditure for Fulton County, according to Keefer, is professional services that can include engineering and architectural services and even the appointment of conflict attorneys.

Moving on to prison inmate costs, which tallied $711,263 last year for combined boarding and participation in the Day Reporting Center (DRC), Commissioner Craig Cutchall stated this expense was a big eye-opener for him when he was appointed in 2009. In 2011, the commissioners are projecting $628,100 in jail-related costs and an additional $100,100 for DRC.

Asked by the commissioners to explain to the crowd the particulars of how DRC works, Fulton County Deputy Sheriff Larry Ott responded that DRC was “not a particularly good deal” for county participants because many of the individuals not having access to transportation or money for gasoline for the required daily trips to Chambersburg.

“So many times they fail, and people end up going back to jail because they can’t meet the requirements,” the deputy concluded.

Keefer stated the point of DRC is to curb recidivism or repeated offenses. Recidivism, she said, has been reduced in neighboring Franklin County where DRC is based.

Among the commissioners’ long-range goals, added Keefer, are working with the Community Justice Advisory Board to secure funding for video arraignment of prisoners, thereby reducing transportation costs; keeping the county’s buildings in good repair with on-the-spot maintenance and employee work orders; and the digitizing of county records to reduce the amount of storage space.

Ott later asked the commissioners to consider altering their weekly meeting schedule to include evening hours in order to generate public interest in county government. Ott pointed out many individuals are working and unable to attend the Tuesday daytime meetings.

On the same subject, he also questioned if the commissioners’ schedule or itinerary could be posted in advance so residents could attend if necessary. Ott was informed the schedule changes frequently, but a tentative schedule could possibly be posted on line or in the newspaper.

The deputy sheriff then made reference to a question posed in March regarding the annual salary of business manager Tim Stanton. Ott asked if the salaries of all county employees could be released. David Wright, former county treasurer, announced to the crowd he has already submitted a Right-To-Know request with the business manager for this information. The salaries should be made available to Wright in 30 days.

Licking Creek Township resident Jerry Gregory touched on the topic of salaries for county probation officers and learned pay is a negotiated rate based on both education and years of experience. Gregory and Wright were told by Keefer that the next contract with the seven unionized members of the probation and domestic relations departments should be easier to negotiate as they have a starting base to work from. As the officers’ duties are related to public safety, they do not have the right to strike.

Keefer went on to say it is likely the county will use specialized legal counsel during the next round of contract talks as the commissioners are not qualified to negotiate. She clarified that the commissioners are to refrain from speaking on certain issues during negotiations due to labor law practices even though they are considered members of the Negotiations Committee.

Turning the conversation toward the possibility of future drilling in the county for Marcellus shale, Commissioner David Hoover II told concerned resident Jack Hendricks that an individual had come to their office a year ago with an interest for buying or leasing land. He came back a month or two later, Hoover said, and reported to the commissioners they were not going to follow through with drilling in Fulton County at that time due to the shale being up to two miles below Earth’s surface.

“It’s probably not going to happen here,” stated Hoover. “ ... Fulton County couldn’t handle that here ... . The three of us (the commissioners) would definitely be against it I’m sure.”

Keefer urged Hendricks to speak with local resident Neill Miller, who along with other citizens meets regularly to discuss the topic. Fulton County extension agent Greg Strait was also mentioned as a reference for information.

Addressing the topic of the future of the sheriff’s office, Keefer told resident Ken Mowen the commissioners had previously changed their mind about the jailhouse plans when they received a letter from a local contractor who was fearful for the lives of his employees while working on the two-story facility. Based on that information, the commissioners decided to tear down the building, said Keefer. However, they were quickly greeted by opposition as some county residents were interested in preserving the office that contributes to the historical character of the surrounding district.

The new plans call for an exterior facelift for the sheriff’s office with funding for the project being raised by the Fulton County Historical Society. Keefer urged those in attendance who supported the decision to keep the jail to provide financial backing for the Historical Society to see the project through.

Interior upgrades will be covered by the county, she added. A recently completed structural analysis has revealed all problems with the facility are fixable.

David Wright announced since the meeting in Thompson Township last month, local businessman Ronnie Richards fronted the money necessary to temporarily cover the jail’s unfinished roof. The work was completed by local contractor Randy Bunch, added Wright.

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