Mercer County considers putting jail under private management - 21 News Now, More Local News for Youngstown, Ohio -

Mercer County considers putting jail under private management

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MERCER, Pa. - Talks are underway to keep the cost of criminals locked up in Mercer County under control and that may mean putting the prison under private management.

Operating the Mercer County prison costs taxpayers almost $8 million a year. 

It's an expense prison board members are trying to trim.

"Commissioners have not raised taxes, this year's really a tough year, we're just looking at that part and mostly it's cost," Thomas Amundsen says, prison board president.

A move to private prison management instead of a county-run system is under consideration. 

The private company that operates the Columbiana County Jail has toured the Mercer facility. Still, the board is still in the process of researching the option.

A private firm would likely pay prison guards about $10 to $12 dollars an hour, which is about half as much as the current union employees earn now. 

"I think my charge to myself is to find a pathway that can satisfy both the taxpayers and the workers," John Lechner says, Mercer County commissioner.

Though board members are adamant about keeping current employees on the payroll , the union says that's not enough-- even if they agree to a higher pay rate.

"I don't think that a company could come in and bring people in that know as much and have relationships with the judges, with the public, that we do," Ross Livermore says, union steward with Teamsters Local 250.

Contract talks between the union and the county have been ongoing since 2012, when the union's last contract expired. Livermore says the two sides last met in June. If privatization talks continue, Livermore fears that could bring an end to the union all together. 

While Lechner says the county is working on another contract proposal to bring to the union, Livermore says he calling for arbitration in an effort to iron out a deal.
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