By Francis Scarcella
The Daily Item
SUNBURY — The Northumberland County commissioners say they may be giving state constables and municipalities notice on Tuesday that as of Jan. 1, they will no longer be paid by the county until an inmate is the responsibility of the county.
Commissioners Steve Bridy and Vinny Clausi said they were to meet with members of the Criminal Justice Advisory Board by the end of September to hear what they had to say about inmate escort and transportation, but they have not received notification of any plans.
So they are sick of waiting and need to take action.
Publicly, of course.
“The county is not required to use constables to transport prisoners,” Bridy said. “It is too costly, in my opinion.”
The county spent $110,000 for constable prisoner transportation through September with three months to go, Bridy said.
It is projected the county will pay close to $150,000 this year, while Bridy said police officers in municipalities are getting up to four hours of overtime for court appearances.
“It’s double dipping on the taxpayers,” he said. “We need to worry about the county budget here.”
The advisory board, which is spearheaded by Point Township Police Chief Joshua Van Kirk, Milton Chief Craig Lutcher and Sunbury Chief Steve Mazzeo, also includes municipal police officers and officials from other areas of the county.
“We received no official notification of anything yet,” Mazzeo said before referring questions about the issue to Sunbury Mayor David Persing.
Persing said he has major concerns.
“I have touched based with other municipalities, and none of us has projected what this will cost us,” he said.
“This could blow up budgets come June. There will be times we will not have officers to do what we want, and protecting the lives of people is our first concern. We will do what we have to, and it is like the federal government telling us what we have to do. I truly believe the county is responsible to transport the prisoners. So if one of these commissioners says they are saving taxes, they are shifting taxes from the county level to the municipal level, and we will have to raise taxes to cover that.”
Bridy said: “Tell Mr. Persing not to confuse Sunbury residents because police are already getting paid to do this job. If Sunbury arrests three times more people than Ralpho Township and the county is to transport the prisoners, that means Ralpho Township residents are paying for the issues that Sunbury should be paying for. We are looking out for the whole county here.”
Bridy and Clausi said they will have to see what happens on Tuesday when they take a vote, but research has shown that Northumberland County is one of 15 counties out of the 67 in Pennsylvania that still use constables for prisoner transportation.
In the other counties, police officers handle the chore. In Northumberland County, constables who are paid by the county transport prisoners to court appearances in front of district judges. As cases progress to the Court of Common Pleas, transportation becomes the responsibility of the sheriff’s department.
“We will take it from there,” Clausi said.
“It is up to the police officer who made the arrest to finish out his duties,” he said. “They all will say we are trying to be difficult, but the truth is we are not. We are trying to save the county taxpayers from paying twice.”
Clausi estimates that shifting the responsibility to the police could save the county $150,000 a year, and that figure is up from $100,000 estimated earlier this year.
“We are spending too much money on this,” he said. “We need to worry about the county budget, and we need to cut where we can.”
It costs the county $300 every time a constable hauls two inmates from Sunbury to Shamokin for district court.
State constables are paid on average $45.40 plus mileage to transport prisoners. They receive a state rate holding fee of $13 per hour after holding a prisoner for 30 minutes.
The constables still would serve arrest warrants and perform other duties, Clausi said.