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Schiccatano questioned about pay at county jail

SUNBURY — Corrections officers (COs) who work at the Northumberland County Jail receive 40 paid days off per year, according to Northumberland County Commissioner Sam Schiccatano.

Schiccatano provided that information during Wednesday’s Northumberland County Prison Board meeting, after once again being questioned by Fran Ruzicka, of Sunbury, about why the county only pays officers a starting salary of $12.75 per hour.

Ruzicka, who has two sons working as COs at the jail, has raised the issue multiple times at past meetings.

During the July meeting, Schiccatano tasked Warden Bruce Kovach with finding out what the pay and benefits are for COs in surrounding counties. Schiccatano said on Wednesday all of the data is not yet available.

“I’ve recruited 10 to 20 young people to go to the prison to be COs,” Schiccatano said. “I really appreciate COs ... As far as the losing of COs, that’s happening to every county prison.”

In July, Schiccatano said with salary and benefits combined, Northumberland County corrections officers can earn between $44,000 and $58,000 during their first year on the job.

In addition to a medical plan in which employees pay very little out-of-pocket expenses, Schiccatano said Northumberland County COs have a pension plan and receive at least 10 paid holidays, 15 paid sick days and one paid personal day.

Ruzicka also briefly exchanged words with Commissioner Chairman Rick Shoch, who previously mentioned that Ruzicka’s sons must be satisfied with the pay and benefits they receive working as COs.

Ruzicka said she was upset by Shoch’s comments.

“I was pointing out that there are people who think the total package we have, in compensation, is beneficial to them,” Shoch said. “Your sons are among those people who looked at the package and decided to stay here to work.”

President Judge Charles Saylor, chairman of the prison board, ended the discussion by noting the benefits package the COs receive is negotiated between a union and the county.

“It’s a union issue,” he told Ruzicka. “You have to tell your sons to talk to their union representatives if they’re dissatisfied.”

Kovach reported the jail currently has 84 employees, including 75 full-time COs, four part-time COs, two records officers and three administrative positions.

Over the past month, he said the prison has hired five new employees, while two have resigned and one was terminated.

He reported the current prison population is 267 inmates.

Kovach also announced the prison has been awarded a grant from Vivitrol, a prescription drug that is used to treat opioid and alcohol dependence. The medication’s website reports that prisons “may be eligible to apply for federal and state funding.”

Kovach said he did not know the amount of the grant and added that planning for use of the funds is still in the early stages.

With the funding, Kovach said, a counselor will be hired. The counselor will work with inmates who opt to receive Vivitrol injections as part of their release.

“Vivitrol is a medication which will help to reduce the desire to do opioids,” Kovach said.

He noted that Schuylkill County served as a pilot location for giving inmates Vivitrol and counseling as part of their re-entry into society after incarceration.

“Studies have shown (Vivitrol) is most effective,” Kovach said. “It’s successful enough where the state DOC (Department of Corrections) is supportive of it.”

The prison board also heard from Jubilee Ministries CEO Ryan Newswanger.

Newswanger said the program, based in Lebanon County, was founded 25 years ago and can work with men just released from prison or individuals who are given alternative sentencing options.

Each person accepted into the program must spend time working for the organization, which operates five thrift stores.

The men also live in a home operated by Jubilee Ministries and have a tight schedule they must follow. Participants are also involved in Bible studies and take classes in areas such as financial management and life skills.

“We are looking for people who want to change their life,” Newswanger said. “This is not a vacation or a get out of jail free card ... We are willing to help, but they must play their part.”

He said the program, which lasts seven to 10 months for participants, has seen successes.

“This has been successful to the point I have employers calling me asking if I have men ready to work,” Newswanger said.

Schiccatano expressed an interest in the county potentially having further discussions with Jubilee Ministries.

“Organizations like you are what we all feel can make a difference,” he said, to Newswanger. “I would love to be part of that, if something can be worked out.”

Commissioner Kym Best was absent from Wednesday’s prison board meeting due to a family commitment.

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Always flying: A new 'Old Glory' graces flagpole

SHAMOKIN — “It’s back home,” an emotional Coal Township VFW Commander and Navy veteran John Schenewerk exclaimed upon the conclusion of a ceremony to raise a newly-acquired American flag high at the intersection of Market and Independence streets Wednesday evening.

The new 10- by 15-foot flag was raised by members of the Shamokin VFW as the “Star Spangled Banner” blared over speakers and a crowd gathered for the occasion.

Schenewerk discussed the rich meaning of the flag and thanked those in attendance in a brief speech prior to the raising of Old Glory. He was joined by Marine Corps veteran John Arnold, of the American Legion; Navy veteran and VFW Chaplain Michael Straub; and Army veteran and VFW member Joe Phillips. All were very pleased to see the Stars and Stripes flying high once again.

The prior flag is believed to have been stolen. It was discovered missing from the flagpole Friday afternoon by Mayor John Brown.

“We just wondered, where’d it go?” said Denise Brown, who watched the ascension of the new flag with a proud smile on her face.

News of the stolen flag sparked many spirited comments from area residents. Sadness, anger and the question “why?” were posed via social media.

“To steal a flag, it’s the lowest of the low and that’s putting things very mildly,” said Schenewerk, who noted he had to put “the sailor” in him in check when commenting.

He called the outpouring of support “very moving” and said the VFW received many donations upon the news breaking.

“We’ve always had the Lee Herb Flag Fund and we’re now in good shape,” he said. “We’ll always keep the flag flying.”

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Fire chiefs recommend centralized station

SHAMOKIN — Top officials from the Shamokin Fire Bureau have officially supported a central-station model of fire protection.

Chief Bruce Rogers, Assistant Chief Steve Jeffery and Deputy Chief Ken Pilkus submitted a letter Tuesday explaining their position. The letter was read by Councilman Scott Roughton, director of public safety, at council’s work session Wednesday evening.

The chiefs sided with a centralized model over that of multi-station, the current form of fire protection. Both were listed as deployment options in a recently completed study that analyzed the bureau, which consists of five companies and Shamokin Emergency Squad.

The study, which was presented to city officials in a binder about 3-inches thick, provides various recommendations that could improve the bureau and also addresses the benefits and drawbacks of service delivery options, such as city-operated service, city-contracted service and city-supported service, which most closely resembles the service provided today.

The study was facilitated by John Senft, a consultant hired by Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED), upon the request of council and urging of past Chief Jason Zimmerman.

Rogers, Jeffery and Pilkus stated in the letter addressed to Mayor John Brown and council that volunteer membership is dwindling and aging. Battalion Chief Lester Yohe, who is on vacation, did not sign the document.

“With today’s concerns, not just in Shamokin but across the region and country, it should be our priority to make residents and visitors that are in or come to Shamokin more protected,” the chiefs explained.

Operating from a central location would provide housing for all department resources. The study states that the location of the station would be “critical” and infrastructure capabilities need to be assessed for current and future apparatus.

The vehicle roster lists four engines, a ladder truck, a rescue unit, a squad and an attack unit that range in age from 26 to 2 years old.

The fire chiefs stated they are willing to work with council to provide a spot analysis to strengthen opportunities to be awarded grant funding.

The chiefs also expressed gratitude toward city officials for having requested DCED conduct the study that will “help provide a more effective fire department.”

“Being an all-hazards department, it is important to understand our resources and current capabilities as they are today — and what could be,” the chiefs concluded.

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UK photographer files copyright lawsuit against Catawese

WILLIAMSPORT — Catawese Coach Lines Inc. is a defendant in a copyright lawsuit filed Monday by professional photographer Richard Southall, of the United Kingdom.

The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. Middle District Court of Pennsylvania, accuses the Zerbe Township bus company of unauthorized reproduction and public display of a copyrighted photograph of the Genting Hotel Casino. The photo is owned and registered by Southall.

The suit alleges Catawese ran the photograph on its Facebook page to promote a trip it was advertising. The plaintiff provided screenshots as evidence.

Southall claims in the suit that Catawese did not license the photograph from the plaintiff, nor did the bus company have Southall’s permission or consent to publish the photograph on its website.

William D. Milbrand, former mayor of Shamokin and owner of Catawese, was not listed as a defendant in the lawsuit and declined comment.

Southall is asking the court for the defendant’s profits, gains or advantages of any kind attributable to the the alleged copyright infringement, that the defendant be required to account for all profits, income, receipts and other benefits derived as a result of alleged unlawful conduct, punitive damages, attorney’s fees and costs, pre-judgment interest and any further relief the court may “deem just and proper.”

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Plans announced to rebuild Kulpmont basketball courts

KULPMONT — Plans to rebuild the outdoor basketball courts at the Terry/Miriello Stadium began Wednesday with the start of an engineering survey at the site, according to officials with Kulpmont100 Inc. and Kulpmont Borough Council.

The work will be paid for via a $25,000 grant that the nonprofit organization received June 28 from the Charles B. Degenstein Foundation. It was given for the express purpose of renovating the recreational facilities at the stadium, beginning with the basketball arena.

Dave Shinskie, secretary of Kulpmont100, said borough Councilman Bob Chesney approached the nonprofit about assisting in the renovations to the recreational facilities.

“I discussed it previously with council, and we felt strongly that resurfacing of the basketball court is long overdo,” Chesney said.

With Chesney’s proposal, Kulpmont100 contacted Justin Skavery, of the Northumberland County Planning and Economic Development office, who recommended application for a grant through the Degenstein Foundation as a possible source of funding for the project. The foundation was established in 1989 by Charles B. Degenstein to implement his lifelong desire to improve the quality of people’s lives through support for organizations with clear statements of purpose, well-defined programs, and competent leadership. Since its inception, it has provided charitable grants to recipient 501©(3) not-for-profit organizations throughout the region.

Kulpmont100 trustee Joe Pancerella and President Tom Letcavage, with the aid of Skavery, submitted detailed information for the grant, which earned an interview by Degenstein Foundation trustees.

Since the stadium is the property of Kulpmont Borough, the foundation wanted assurances from council members that they were “on board” with the project. Kulpmont100 officers, accompanied by Councilman Bob Fanella, joined the foundation trustees at the site to evaluate the viability of the venture.

Letcavage said the first step in the planning and development phase is an engineering survey that was set to begin Wednesday.

Demolition of the existing courts by the borough will follow, then new courts will be built by Kulpmont100 soon after. The idea is to have the undertaking finished in the fall. Work will include removal of the existing courts, building a new drainage system for the courts, new base and surface, new backstops, fencing and painting.

“On behalf of the Kulpmont100, I’d like to thank my committee, Mr. Skavery, the Northumberland County Planning Office, Kulpmont Borough Council and, especially, the Degenstein Foundation for their support and contributions that continue to introduce positive activities that provide a supportive environment for our local youths. We believe we will get the job done, on budget and in a timely manner,” Letcavage said.

“We’re very happy, pleased and thankful for the grant,” said Chesney. “Grants such as this allow us to use these funds to improve things for the kids all while no tax dollars are involved.”

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