MIFFLINTOWN - In a crowded room Tuesday, the Juniata County Commissioners agreed to delay voting about the future of the prison until they have gathered more information.
Commissioner Teresa O'Neal said she would like to see several things happen before making a decision, including a uniform construction code inspection of the building and a report from the Department of Corrections about space requirements.
The prison cost analysis also hasn't been posted online yet, O'Neal said.
"We need to move forward aggressively, but in respect to the people who have been vocal in the process, we need to evaluate these issues," O'Neal said to a room full of prison employees, county officials and community members.
O'Neal shared suggestions from a town hall meeting Thursday, such as putting the issue on the fall election ballot or forming a community group to consider options for the prison.
In response, she said, "We don't have a lot of time because of the severity of what is going on (in the prison)." She said she could not elaborate because of safety and security issues.
Still, a uniform construction code assessment of the prison probably will take longer than a week, O'Neal said. In the meantime, they plan to post the prison report on the website at www.co.juniata.pa.us; the information also is available in the commissioners' office.
If the prison closes and inmates are housed outside the county, the report projects a $617,000 annual savings. About 21 full- and part-time employees would be affected.
After questions about O'Neal's potential conflict of interest, the other two commissioners defended the report she developed.
Commissioner Robert Reynolds said though O'Neal did most of the work, she collaborated often with him and Chairman Jeffrey Zimmerman. All three commissioners gave input about the numbers, he said.
To create the cost analysis, they used the standard methodology created by the Department of Justice, Reynolds said.
O'Neal said she made every effort to present just the facts.
Earlier in the meeting, several community members shared their concerns about the prison closing.
Terry Dolin presented the commissioners with signed petitions from local citizens who oppose closing the prison. Dolin said closing the building would not be fair to county employees, inmates and their families.
"Please make this a dollars and sense issue with an 's'," Dolin said.
Shirley Hargett, a Mifflin Borough council woman, said their police service will be affected if the prison closes. She said their officer could lose about five hours a week if the officer has to run to other counties.
Also representing employees of the prison, Hargett said they are willing to negotiate wages with the commissioners.
When someone asked why O'Neal was the only commissioner at the town hall meeting, Zimmerman said he had a personal commitment and Reynolds said he had a meeting to attend in Lack Township.
In other business, Chris Wysocki, administrator for the Tri-County Mental Health/Mental Retardation, said the human services agencies expect a 10-percent funding cut from the state budget.
Most affected by the cut will be local mental retardation people who are not yet receiving services, Wysocki said.
Emergency response care also will be affected, he said. These services usually help individuals who are cared for in the home if the caregiver suddenly becomes ill, Wysocki said.
Also during the meeting, the commissioners:
Approved an application for county aid through liquid fuels submitted by Walker Township in the amount of $4,165.99 for paving and road repairs.
Ratified community development block grant checks to SEDA-Council of Governments in the amount of $7,230.36, $2,200, $10,022 and $8,500 for administrative costs in 2008, 2009 and 2011; and a check to Castle Valley Construction in the amount of $2,134.70 for the Beale Township sewer project.
The Juniata County Commissioners hold weekly public meetings at 10 a.m. each Tuesday in the Bousum Building, Main Street, Mifflintown.