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County moves ahead on plan for new prison

August 11, 2004|by DON AINES

chambersburg@herald-mail.com

CHAMBERSBURG, PA. - The Franklin County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday authorized the county's Fiscal Department to lay the groundwork for a $39 million bond issue for a new prison, additional farmland preservation and to put all emergency services on the same wavelength.

If the county commits to the projects, it will add about 2.7 mills in real estate taxes for debt service over the 20-year life of the loan, according to Fiscal Department Director Teresa Beckner. The county's current tax rate is 14.5 mills, of which .85 mills is for debt service on a $13 million bond issue.

On a property with a market value of $100,000, that would mean an additional $39.15 a year, said G. Warren Elliott, chairman of the board.

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Beckner said the county needs to act fast because interest rates on bonds might rise sharply by next spring, greatly increasing the cost of paying off the debt. She noted that the Federal Reserve Board on Tuesday raised short-term interest rates by .25 percent, an increase that eventually will filter down to the bond markets.

She estimated the county can get a rate as low as 4.75 percent if it acts soon.

Warden John Wetzel, Planning Director Phil Tarquino and Emergency Services Director Jerry Flasher presented their proposals during a meeting on the county's capital needs. A new prison would cost an estimated $30 million, while Tarquino asked an additional $5 million for farmland preservation and Flasher is seeking $4 million to replace the county's aging radio communications system.

"I've been pretty stubborn on the prison issue. Honestly, I'd rather spend more money on farmland preservation," Elliott said.

Renovating the overcrowded prison, however, would cost more than a new one and the county spends money to house inmates in other counties that would better be spent on a new jail, he said.

"What we need is a nice Chevrolet van. We don't need a Mercedes Benz ... but we're driving a subcompact and the wheels are falling off," Elliott said, using an automotive metaphor to describe the need for a new prison.

Wetzel, who last week said preliminary plans call for a prison to house more than 400 inmates, told the board the project could come in under $30 million, when coupled with other efforts to develop and expand alternative sentencing programs for criminal offenders.

The preliminary designs also call for a building that could be expanded in the future, Wetzel said last week.

The main prison built in 1972 and an annex built in 1992 are designed to house 195 prisoners. The population was more than 370 Tuesday, Wetzel said.

There is not enough room to keep violent and mentally ill inmates separated from the general population, he said. There are six cells in the annex for women, but last week's monthly prison report stated there were 50 women in the jail.

"We have them laying in the hallways" of the annex, Wetzel said.

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