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County inmates called off trash duty

May 10, 2004|by DON AINES

chambersburg@herald-mail.com

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - If there is more litter along Interstate 81 and other state roads in Franklin County this year, part of the reason is that county inmates are no longer picking up trash.

"It's not getting done on the interstate or any other state roads," said Chief Probation Officer Richard Mertz. That is because of a directive from Gov. Edward Rendell last fall turning over road cleanup to state prison inmates for any county within 50 miles of a state correctional institution.

"The tip of the county catches the 50-mile limit," from the state prison in Camp Hill, Pa., Mertz said. Despite being within that limit, Mertz said he was unaware of any state inmates doing any road work in the county.

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That ended an "agility agreement" between the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation and the county under which county prison labor was used to pick up trash along state roads in exchange for services from the transportation department, according to County Commissioner G. Warren Elliott.

In exchange for inmates cleaning up roads for a fraction of the cost of state road crews, the county was able to get parking lots at the courthouse and Falling Spring Nursing and Rehabilitation Center repaved. Work also was done at the Greencastle Senior Activities Center and other county properties.

"The first time we hit the interstate, we picked up something like 20 tons," Mertz said. The program began in the spring of 2000 and crews were out almost every day when weather permitted.

Mertz said inmates might be able to go back out and clean the roads, but the county would not receive anything in return.

Elliott said he believes the state has to sanction county employees and inmates being out on state roads.

"Our big concern is the state highways, not only the interstate, but the roads where inmates had picked up literally tons of trash" and recyclable materials, said Antrim Township Administrator Ben Thomas Jr.

As part of the agility agreement, Thomas said, township and transportation workers had paved the parking lot addition at the senior center in exchange for county inmates cleaning up both state and township roads.

Thomas said he supports Rendell's initiative to use state inmates, but the county is too far from any state prison to profit from the plan.

State Rep. Patrick Fleagle last month contacted the transportation department about the accumulating litter along the interstate and state roads. Rina Cutler, a deputy secretary in the transportation department, responded April 30 that the department "submitted a request to the Department of Corrections identifying the area that needs to be cleaned."

Cutler wrote that corrections officials are to visit the area soon to see if state inmate crews can be used. The advantage to the transportation department is that there is no trade-off of services and state inmate labor "is offered to us at no cost."

"The agility program has been one of the most successful intergovernmental cooperation programs I've ever seen," Fleagle said Thursday. "I hope the governor will relent and get the program back on track."

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