Posted by on September 1, 2020 9:12 pm

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Categories: Coal Region Newswire Coal Region Newswire 2 Local News

schuylkill county plans pre release prison at giant supermarket

(Photo: Coal Region Canary)

Despite attempts to calm an angry public by suggesting another use for the property, Schuylkill County Commissioners are definitely moving forward with a plan to put a pre-release prison at the site of the former GIANT grocery store in downtown Pottsville.

Back in July, The Canary was the first to report on the County’s plan to put a pre-release prison at the property along Progress Ave. in Pottsville. Commissioners jumped at the chance to purchase the property after GIANT announced it was closing its store downtown after 37 years.

Since then, the County has heard from numerous members of the public, other local elected officials, and Pottsville business leaders. All of them have expressed their frustrations and anger over that plan. In an attempt to cool those hot tempers, the County suggested that it wasn’t set on a pre-release prison for the now-vacant property. Instead, as Commissioner George Halcovage suggested in an interview with WFMZ-TV, the County could use the property for office space and storage.

But that’s definitely not the case.

Schuylkill County Definitely Intends to Put Pre-Release Prison at Former GIANT Property

Instead, The Canary has learned, during a meeting on Tuesday in which all 3 Schuylkill County Commissioners were present, the County again expressed its intent to put a pre-release prison at the former GIANT property.

However, the support for the idea of a pre-release prison in downtown Pottsville is not unanimous among the Commissioners. At least one Commissioner, Democrat Gary Hess, is completely against the idea.

Many officials have expressed their concerns over the County’s plan. Pottsville officials believe putting a prison in downtown Pottsville, especially at the proposed location would put a damper on the city’s current revitalization efforts.

Indeed, County officials have heard from Pottsville Mayor James Muldowney and two local state officials, State Rep. Mike Tobash and State Sen. Dave Argall. Each told Commissioners to reconsider their bad idea.

Tobash said during a Commissioners meeting recently that he wouldn’t want his name anywhere near the building if and when it’s eventually dedicated. Argall reminded Commissioners that public money shouldn’t be spent the way the County intends to spend it.

Pottsville Payback

If the County does purchase the GIANT property, it would create a massive tax burden on Pottsville taxpayers with the City losing nearly $90,000 a year in taxes. That’s about how much the GIANT property provides Pottsville when it’s in private ownership.

To make up that loss if the County goes forward with its plan to remove this massive property from the tax roll, Pottsville is likely to hit back at the Courthouse.

We’ve also learned that Pottsville would likely revoke a 40% discount it provides the County on 115 parking spaces around Pottsville. Most of these parking spaces are located within the Capital Parking Deck but there are other spaces the County leases through Pottsville Parking Authority.

Right now, the County pays PPA about $50,000 a year for those 115 spaces, so taking away the discount wouldn’t totally offset the loss of a valuable commercial property but it’s a start.

Of course, all these costs come from the same place … you.

The Big Secret

It’s unlikely the public will hear about the purchase of the former GIANT property until the deal is complete. The public wasn’t informed of the County’s plan to purchase the former Quirin Foundry property along Route 61 in Saint Clair to place its new Schuylkill Transportation System headquarters.

In fact, the County put the kibosh on one local media outlet’s plan (not The Canary’s) to go forward with a story about the purchase until it was ready to make a public announcement about it. After that outlet agreed to hold off, the County then tipped off another outlet about the story instead.

Throughout the drama surrounding the pre-release prison plans for downtown Pottsville, the County’s plans have also been kept close to the vest.

It took a Right to Know request to find out the actual cost of the appraisal the County had completed on the GIANT property ($1,500) and the County still isn’t letting the public know how much the appraisal says the property is worth.

It’s believed the County intends to use money from its CARES Act allocation to make the purchase of the former GIANT property. That’s money the County has also kept a big secret.

County officials still haven’t informed the public, as a whole, about a small business grant program to help companies who’ve been adversely impacted by the government’s pandemic response and business shutdown orders. It’s a little late for that announcement, however. The deadline to apply for funds is Wednesday.

And the County only gave businesses 2 weeks to apply for funds after it informed the Schuylkill Chamber of Commerce about its secretive grant program.

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