IN THE NEWS

Commissioners hear concerns about local cellular services

Public Defender working to reduce jail time for county inmates

Warden: Jail population now at 71; two housed outside Wyoming County

By C.J. Marshall
Wordsmith Productions

By consensus, the Wyoming County Commissioners decided on Tuesday, Aug. 20, to send a letter to Verizon Communications, expressing concerns about the quality of cellular service in the area.

The commissioners made the decision, following a complaint by Joe Sick of Tunkhannock, who described Verizon’s cell service as “trash” and “junk.”

“In one of my businesses, I can’t use my cell phone there. The tower is no more than a mile away as the crow flies,” he said.

Wyoming County Commissioner Judy Meade agreed with Sick’s assessment, referring to it as “a terrible problem.”

“Can you approach this company and say ‘What gives,” Sick said. “This is beyond terrible service.”

Meade spoke of problems she has had with Verizon, saying it has gone downhill over the past three years.

“I received a text this morning around 8, that was stored last night around quarter of 11,” she said.

Laurie Bennett spoke up, saying Sprint service has also gotten “horrible.” in the area. She said she was informed by a Sprint representative that the cell tower in Forkston was damaged during a storm, and it would take a while to repair it.

Sick, who is a local firefighter, also expressed some problems he had recently encountered with the county emergency communications center. Commissioner Tom Henry said they would speak to 9-11 Director Jeff Potter about the situation.

The commissioners also heard a presentation by Cain Chamberlin, executive director of the Endless Mountains Heritage Region, urging support for the Facade Program.

“It’s a facade and sign-up program geared particularly toward revitalizing streetscapes along the Route 6 Corridor,” Chamberlin explained.

The Endless Mountains Heritage Region is teaming up with the Route 6 Alliance to bring the program to the area, Chamberlin said.

“Essentially, this is a matching grants program,” he said. “It requires a 50-50 dollar-per-dollar match by the applicant. And it is a reimbursable program.”

Among the program’s goals and objectives is to reduce vacancies within the program’s target area, and promote the adaptive reuse of commercial buildings.

“We do see a lot of vacant store fronts right now, and we’d like to obviously change that with this program,” he said.

Another goal would be to bring buildings in substandard condition up to health, safety, and building codes, Chamberlin explained.

“We’d also like to encourage redevelopment and reinvestment as well as stimulate private investment,” he said.

Following the presentation, the commissioners voted to support the program.

In other business, the commissioners ratified the Risk Pool Ordinance, which is part of the county’s insurance program. The commissioners also voted not to renew a lease with Indigo Tower for the company to use towers for its back-up cellular equipment in the area. The reason they decided not to renew the lease is because the county has previously had problems with Indigo Tower.

The commissioners also voted to hire Jesse Hallinan as an assistant public defender, and promote Samantha Roszel to Telecommunicator 1 at $15.30 an hour.

Tina Hennring, president of FWM Emergency of Mehoopany, informed the commissioners that a ceremony is scheduled on Saturday, Aug. 31, at 7:30 p.m., at the Veteran’s Pavilion at the Wyoming County Fair, to honor local emergency responders with 50 or more years of service and who are still active.

 

By C.J. Marshall

Wordsmith Productions

Public Defender Tim Michaels recently informed the Wyoming County Commissioners that his office has been working hard during the past year to significantly reduce the amount of time clients spend in jail.

Michaels was providing the commissioners with a report of what has occurred in the public defender’s office since he took the position 14 months ago.

“About 90 to 95 percent of the people who apply for the public defender, qualify for the public defender,” Michaels explained.

Over the past year, he said, his office has handled over 400 cases. The office is now handling 220 active cases, and about the same number of clients who are returned to the criminal justice system because they have violated their parole. The office also assists former clients by referring them to Human Services and other programs if they need it.

“We handle a vast number of crimes ranging from disorderly conduct all the way up to first degree murder,” Michaels said.

One of his top concerns when he took the job, Michaels continued, was people being able to get through when they called the office. To that end, he had three additional phone lines installed, and two people are now available to when a call comes in at any given time.

“I talked to the warden (at the county jail) a few weeks ago,” Michaels explained. “And I asked him as I ask you, do you have any problems for me so I can improve myself. And he told me to be honest I haven’t had any complaints about you in the last several months.”

Previously, the average time a person sat in jail while awaiting sentencing was 220 days, Michaels explained. He said he’s been working and succeeding on reducing that time, although there are still delays.

“Simply because the way things are scheduled,” he said. “We still have a lag. I think we can move more quickly if we just reset the time frames.”

However, Michaels said, that is not within his jurisdiction.

At the present time, there’s a wait of 72 to 90 days for people waiting to be sentenced.

Michaels also pointed out that most parole violations are not because a client broke the law. The main reason, he explained, is because they did not follow the rules – such as forgetting to report in, or not filling out their paperwork on time. Providing help in such situations to prevent such violations could reduce the number of people re-incarcerated.

Michaels said that certain cases could be processed more quickly if they were sentenced at the district justice level.

“Approximately 76 percent of the cases that go through the system are misdemeanor cases,” Micheals explained, citing facts provided by the state. “And of those cases, probably a good third, if not more, are misdemeanor cases that can be resolved at the magistrate level. However, we in Wyoming County do not resolve cases at the magistrate level. Other counties do it, and it’s the first line of defense in saving money.”

Michaels said he is under the impression the reason Wyoming County does not exercise that option is because county probation does not wish to work with the magistrates. The cases must be sent to the Court of Common Pleas, which in turn requires more time and money to process.

Michaels also pointed out that most parole violations are not because a client broke the law. The main reason, he explained, is because they did not follow the rules – such as forgetting to report in, or not filling out their paperwork on time. Providing help in such situations to prevent such violations could reduce the number of people re-incarcerated.

The public defender said he will continue to work at making improvements to the office a part of his goal to make it more efficient.

By C.J. Marshall
Wordsmith Productions

Warden Kenneth Repsher informed the Wyoming County Prison Board on Tuesday, Aug. 20 that the local prison population is “on the bubble” concerning the number of inmates.

Repsher explained that the jail now houses 69 inmates, as well as two incarcerated outside the area – one in Susquehanna County, one in Lackawanna County.

“We’re trying to get those two back,” he said.

If the two inmates are returned and there is no further increase in the jail population, it will be the first time in several months that no prison has to be boarded at an outside facility. The cost of housing inmates in other counties has put a strain on Wyoming County’s resources. According to figures provided by the warden, Wyoming County spent $12,425 on inmate housing in June – with a total figure of $44,105 for the year at the end of that month.

Everything else is going fine at the jail at this time, Repsher explained, including the various programs to help the inmates.

At the request of Public Defender Tim Michaels, the board voted to authorize Repsher to draw up guidelines concerning work release for inmates.

Michaels explained there has been some confusion over the rules about work release from a number of clients handled by his office. The warden creating a list of requirements would help to clear up much of the confusion, he said.

Aquarium and reptile den offers fun for the entire family

By C.J. Marshall

Wordsmith Productions

There’s definitely something fishy at The Marketplace in Steamtown these days.

No, the mall has not added a fish market to its many attractions.

However, folks will definitely find fish – and other wildlife – at the Electric City Aquarium & Reptile Den.

Located at 300 Lackawanna Avenue in Scranton in The Marketplace, the Electric City Aquarium and Reptile Den features a wide variety of colorful fish, reptiles, and amphibians for the viewing public.

According to Marketing and Events Manager Alexis Vera, the aquarium has proved very popular since it opened in September.

Each month, tens of thousands of people tour the facility,” she explained.

People can view several different species of sharks in the shark tank, a popular attraction which holds thousands of gallons of water. One section features many different types of snakes – venomous and non-venomous. One can view a female alligator as she enthusiastic swims about in her trough. A crocodile in another holding area prefers to remain hidden in the shadows.

They like to keep out of sight,” Vera explained.

The aquarium features a variety of tanks allowing participants to view fish and other marine life in different ways. One tank actually forms a tunnel, which fish displayed on each side, and above. People walking through the tunnel get a “fish eye” view as the displays as they swim overhead. Cylinder tanks as high as the ceiling provide a 360 degree display.

Another popular attraction, particularly with children, are the touch tanks. One features star fish and coral. The second touch tank holds sting rays, and kids eagerly run their fingers across the bodies, getting up close and personal with the exhibits.

One spectacular yet subdued exhibit is the jelly fish tank. As they float languidly in the tank, their color crosses the spectrum, from red, blue, and everything in between.

We take advantage of the jelly fish’s natural luminescence,” Vera explained, saying the effect is created by colored lights.

The most popular exhibit with children is the “Finding Nemo” tank. One of the fish is the same as “Nemo” from the movie, and aquarium personnel encourage the children to “find Nemo.” The tank also features clown fish, and other colorful species.

People can plan events at the aquarium,” Vera said.

Electric City, also holds special events at the facility. For example, she said, “Wine Under the Waves” will be held on July 20, from 7 to 10 p.m. Vendors from several wineries and vineyards will be attending, and people can sample their various wares. A live band – Parrotbeach – will be performing, and several food vendors will also be at the event.

Participants must be over 21, and the cost is $35 in advance, or $40 at the door.

Further information about the Electric City Aquarium and Reptile Den – including tickets and events – can be found at its website at www.electriccityaquarium.com.

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