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2/21/2017
Two displaced after fire ravaged apartment building in Nanticoke
tkellar@timesleader.com

Two people were displaced as a result of a fire that ravaged an apartment building Monday night.
Crews were dispatched to the building on East Broad Street at 9:25 p.m. for a report of a commercial structure fire. Fire Chief Kevin Hazleton said the building is part of Birchwood Rehabilitation and Nursing Center and housed up to 4 apartments.
Hazleton said crews arrived to find fire blowing out of the rear and side of the structure.
“It was blowing, but the (fire) members made a good hit on it,” he said.
The apartment where the fire originated sustained heavy fire damage, and the rest of the building sustained smoke damage, according to Hazleton. Only two people were living in the building.
No injuries or pet deaths were reported. Hazleton said a Pennsylvania State Police Fire Marshal is expected to look into what caused the blaze.

2/19/2017
Downtown Jolt
Denise Allabaugh - Citizens Voice

He's taking a shot on downtown Nanticoke.
Edward Rodriguez, 32, the former general manager at Johnny Rockets at Mohegan Sun Pocono in Plains Township, has opened Cool Beanz, his first business, at 71 E. Main St.
The bistro features specialty brewed coffee and tea, smoothies, breakfast and lunch fare, including panini sandwiches, hot dogs, salads, soups and sweets like pies, muffins, cookies and cupcakes.
Rodriguez, who has worked in the food industry since he was 15, said starting his own business was something he always wanted to do.
"It is a risk, but I needed to take it to see if I can succeed," he said. "If I didn't take the risk, I would never know and I would regret it. I took a big risk, something that I never did before, and I'm putting all my chips in it and hopefully it pays off in the long run for me and my family."
When he was looking for a place to open his new business, he stumbled on the location in Nanticoke, the former Coffee's Coffee owned by Kim Coffee.
It is located across from Luzerne County Community College's Health Sciences Building and Geisinger's family practice facility and near Weis Market.
"There are a lot of students here," Rodriguez said. "There's the doctor's office and there are patients here and people from the supermarket."
Several vacant storefronts are located next to Cool Beanz, but there are plans to revitalize downtown buildings in the future as part of a streetscape project, said Interim City Manager Donna Wall.
A sewer project was recently completed and a new water main will be put in the downtown area, Wall said. New street lights are planned in the future and Nanticoke received a $5.6 million federal grant for the project, she said.
"Overall, I think there's a lot of progress that will be made downtown," Wall said. "Anybody who wants to get on board and bring businesses here, the city welcomes them here."
Rodriguez said he hopes to see other vacant buildings in Nanticoke filled.
"I'm hoping to see other stores and different things to bring more of the community out," he said. "I hope they revitalize downtown and a lot more foot traffic comes by. Without customers, I won't be open."
Cool Beanz
The eatery is open Monday through Friday, 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Delivery is offered 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. For information, call 570-258-2315.

2/13/2017
Nanticoke saves $2,000 by tax bill switch
mmizenko@timesleader.com

The city is saving over $2,000 by switching to a private sector company to print and mail tax bills, officials say.
The decisions to switch to Berkheimer Tax Office was brought before and agreed on by council in May 2016. The official start date was Jan. 15, 2017.
Jennifer Polito, the city’s finance director, said the city is saving $2,104 by having Berkheimer mail real estate tax bills.
“Berkheimer is doing it for less,” said Donna Wall, the interim city manager. Previous Times Leader reports show Berkheimer’s $2.25 rate per bill and $1.25 reminder mailings saves the city 25 cents per bill.
“We are getting same services that the county was giving for less,” Polito said.
Wall also said the county wouldn’t separate out municipal tax from the county tax when they billed residents.
“We separated it to make it easier for the taxpayers to pay since they are now separated and due at different times,” Wall noted.
School taxes, also handled by Berkhimer, are mailed in August while the city taxes are mailed in March. The county’s tax will be issued in February.
The city didn’t raise taxes in 2017. Mayor Richard Wiaterowski’s budget kept the millage rate at 5.93. A mill is a $1 tax for every $1,000 of assessed value. The breakdown of millage includes general purpose millage at 4.75, debt services at 1.15 and .0194 for the Mill Memorial Library.
Hazleton is the only other county municipality which issues a separate city tax bill.

2/11/2017
Nanticoke native bestowed Congressional award posthumously
boboyle@timesleader.com

A Nanticoke native has been posthumously honored for his service with the Civil Air Patrol during World War II.
Louis Testaguzza, who died on Sept. 18, 2015, was presented a certificate of Special Congressional Recognition on Nov . 15, 2016. He was 87.
The certificate reads:
“In recognition of the Congressional Gold Medal Award for invaluable contributions in the United States Civil Air Patrol during World War II, when they forged the path the organization and its volunteers still follow today.”
Testaguzza’s sister, Julie Golanoski, of Nanticoke, said she was very happy that her brother received such a prestigious honor.
“It’s belated, but he finally was recognized for his service,” Golanoski said. “I’m very proud of my brother. He started his aeronautical career as a teenager — even before he drove a car, he was flying an airplane.”
Golanoski said Testaguzza and his two friends joined the Civil Air Patrol, calling themselves “The Three Musketeers.”
“His loyalty was always strong to his home town of Nanticoke,” Golanoski said. “We grew up on West Church Street, where I live now.”
According to the Civil Air Patrol’s California Wing, after two attempts to get the Congressional Gold Medal awarded to the Civil Air Patrol World War II era veterans, the medal was finally authorized by Congress and President Barack Obama in May 2014 and the medal awarded on Dec. 10, 2014.
The CAP said while over a replica hundred medals have been awarded to date, the organization continues to search for living members and the families of deceased members who are eligible for the award to ensure they are recognized for their service.
One such recipient was the family of Testaguzza, who served as a cadet in the Pennsylvania Wing during World War II, attached to the Wilkes-Barre Squadron, near Scranton.
Testaguzza soloed in a Piper J-3 Cub at 17 years of age and then enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps seven days after graduating from Nanticoke High School, and he served as an aircraft mechanic.
In 1949, he was honorably discharged from the Marine Corps, but later joined the California Air National Guard and was commissioned a second lieutenant after completing flight training and earning his pilot’s wings from the U.S. Air Force in 1953, where he flew P-51 Mustangs and F-86 Sabre jets.
Testaguzza graduated from Northrop University in 1955 with a degree in aeronautical engineering and began his civilian career in the burgeoning California aerospace industry, eventually landing at Lockheed. In 1962, 2d Lt. Testaguzza was recalled to active duty during the Cuban Missile Crisis and was later promoted to the grade of major and placed in command of the 938th Communication Squadron.
He was again recalled to active duty in 1968 during the USS Pueblo crisis. In 1969, Maj. Testaguzza retired from the Air Force after more than 22 years of active and reserve service.
Testaguzza continued to work at Lockheed while attending law school at night and after graduation, was admitted to the California State Bar, Federal District Court and U.S. Supreme Court. He retired from Lockheed in 1989 with over 30 years of service, but remained active as an aviation consultant for McDonnell Douglas.
Testaguzza remained active in aviation and became a certified flight examiner in 1988 at the age of 60 and continued to give check flights until the age of 85. Testaguzza passed away at the age of 87 on Sept. 18, 2015 in Palo Alto, California.
The Congressional Gold Medal was presented to Testaguzza’s widow, Marlene, and his son, Brett, at John J. Montgomery Memorial Squadron 36 in San Jose by California Wing Commander Col. Alan Ferguson and assisted by Squadron 36 Commander, Capt. Steven Angus. More than 60 CAP members were in attendance.
Testaguzza was born in Nanticoke to Italian immigrants Dominic and Mary Testaguzza. His father worked in the coal mines and his mother ran a boarding house.
Testaguzza’s obituary noted that he “lived his life to the fullest,” and he always said “Life is not a rehearsal, live it up!”
Civil Air Patrol California Wing Commander Col. Alan Ferguson presented the Congressional Gold Medal of Maj. Louis Testaguzza, a native of Nanticoke, to his widow, Marlene, and his son, Brett, during a ceremony on Nov. 15, 2016, in California.
About the Civil Air Patrol
The numbers alone tell a story of heroic sacrifice: At least 59 CAP members were killed in the performance of their missions, with nearly half – 26 – dying during the coastal patrols. Those patrols alone accounted for 86,685 missions involving 244,600 flight hours and more than 24 million aerial miles.
CAP was founded Dec. 1, 1941, a week before the bombing of Pearl Harbor. The coastal patrols began within three months, after the Petroleum Industry War Council requested protection for oil tankers falling prey to German torpedoes. Over the next 15 months, members used their own planes to watch for U-boats, sometimes dropping bombs when they spotted one of the submarines.
The Congressional Gold Medal marks the first major recognition CAP’s members have received for their World War II service. Fewer than 100 are believed to be alive today.

2/5/2017
Nanticoke family crazy about Patriots
bkalinowski@citizensvoice.com

The Felici family of Nanticoke keeps their Christmas tree up every year until the New England Patriots football season is over.
They like when it’s still up in February, like this year. That means their favorite team made the Super Bowl again.
Over the years, the family’s Christmas tree shed traditional ornaments to become what it is today — a shrine to the Patriots. This year’s tree — a white pine with lots of red, white and blue flair — has held up remarkably well as the Patriots prepare today to play in their seventh Super Bowl in 16 years.
“This is the best one we’ve had. We’ve had ones where all the needles fell off and it was like a stick,” Kelly Felici, 39, said.
Her husband, Pete, 39, convinced her to become a Patriots fan when they started dating in the 1990s. She was a Raiders fan who converted at the right time. Soon after she made the switch, the Patriots developed into a dynasty under head Coach Bill Belichick and star quarterback Tom Brady.
Some accuse her of “jumping on the bandwagon” of a winner.
“I get called it. He’s not. He’s an original,” she said.
But Pete Felici said he’s not immune to the taunts when people see him decked out in Patriots attire. He recalls a particular time about a decade ago when an elderly man was giving him a hard time at a gas station after seeing him in his Patriots jacket.
“He’s like, ‘Did you just jump on the bandwagon?’ I said, ‘I’ve been a fan for as long as I could remember,’” Pete Felici recalled.
Pete Felici said he became a fan as a kid while visiting relatives in Connecticut. It was cold out and they got him a New England Patriots sweatshirt. Ever since then, he has been rooting for the Patriots.
After converting his wife, they have been to about 15 Patriots games over the years in Foxborough, Massachusetts. Their daughters, Lexy, 13, and Brook, 10, are backers of the Patriots too.
Even they get teased by classmates about supporting the mighty Patriots, they said.
“They always bring up ‘Deflategate,’” Lexy said, referring to accusations New England deliberately underinflated footballs used for their offense to suit Brady’s preference.
All this ribbing — most of it good-hearted — comes with the territory for backing a team that has been on top of the game so long, the family says.
Over the years, Pete Felici said he’s tried not to brag about how good his team has been, but his buddies love to tease him when they falter.
“Especially with all the Steelers and Eagles fans,” he said.
Pete Felici said it has been a great time to be a Patriots fan because he realizes the team “isn’t going to be great forever.”
“It’s been a great run. The Belichick-Brady combination, they have it figured out,” Peter Felici said.

2/3/2017
Family fearful with man's alleged killer still at large
bkalinowski@citizensvoice.com

As Tina Letavish laid on her living room couch in the early morning hours of Jan. 18, she watched her son walk out the front door to meet someone.
Almost immediately, she heard a scuffle erupt. A flurry of gunshots followed.
"I got up from the couch. By the time I got to the door Brandon was coming back to the door saying someone shot him. It was like two seconds," Letavish recalled Thursday. "He was running back and forth in the house screaming that he didn't want to die. I replay it every day all day in my head. All I see is my son begging for his life."
Smith, 20, died a short time later at the hospital from multiple gunshot wounds.
More than two weeks later, the man police identified as the killer, convicted drug dealer Antoine McNeal, remains at large.
Letavish said her family - which includes her husband and Smith's three younger siblings - is fearful with the killer still on the loose. It adds to the unease of having to live in their apartment at 185 W. Church St. where Smith took some of his last breaths, she said.
"I really wish they would catch the guy," Letavish said.
Nanticoke police Chief Tom Wall said the U.S. Marshals Service is hunting for McNeal, who was last known to live in Wilkes-Barre.
Wall wouldn't reveal how McNeal, 32, was identified as the suspect, but confirmed drugs had something to do with the crime.
"There was drug activity involved, but the motive is unclear at this time," Wall said.
Smith's sister, Destiny Crooks, said her brother used marijuana for anxiety, but never dabbled with other drugs.
Letavish, 47, said Smith, one of her nine children, didn't tell her a lot about his personal business and she didn't ask a lot of questions. She said he was a kind, good kid who never got in trouble.
Unlike the suspect, Smith had no criminal history, according to a search of court records.
Smith and McNeal knew each other from working at Kappa Graphics in Hughestown, though Smith hadn't worked there for months, his mother said. A company official declined comment.
"We have family friends that worked there. They had told us this guy was watching Brandon and was envious of Brandon. They would tell Brandon, 'Don't trust him.' Brandon didn't trust this kid. He was warned about him," Letavish said.
What baffles Letavish is how the suspect ended up outside their house. She said Smith was very private and didn't let a lot of people know where they lived.
"I can't believe Brandon would let him near our house," she said.
In the aftermath of Smith's death, Letavish said the family was disheartened to hear people online assume he was adopted because he was the only black person in the family.
"It really hurt me to read that he was a foster child. He was my son - my biological son and I never raised my children to think they were 'step' anything. We are a very close family," Letavish said.
Another misconception, she said, were erroneous reports that her family was a longtime neighborhood nuisance. She said they had just moved there in November and had caused no trouble.
Letavish moved her family to Pennsylvania from Binghamton, New York, about 10 years ago.
They lived in the Tunkhannock area for a while before moving to Nanticoke. They moved to Ohio for a short time, then returned to Nanticoke.
"We have a lot of friends here," Letavish said.
Smith initially went to Tunkhannock Area schools, but later was moved to the Alternative Learning Center in Plains Township for some disciplinary reasons, his mother said.
After dropping out of school, Smith worked as a garbage picker for J.P. Mascaro & Sons, which was also the first job for several of her older sons who now live on their own.
"I gave him a lot of credit for that. He stuck it out," Letavish said.
Smith was injured on the job and had to quit after he hit his head off a utility pole one day during trash pickups, Letavish said.
Most recently, Smith was looking to return to school, his mother said. Instead of planning to help him in his next chapter in life, they had to plan for a funeral they couldn't afford, she said.
Smith's family has sent up a fund online to pay for the $2,000 they still owe in funeral costs. To donate, go to www.gofundme.com/3boa8v4.
On Sunday, they will be thinking of Smith a lot as his beloved New England Patriots play in the Super Bowl.
"We are all rooting for the Patriots for Brandon," Letavish said.
HUNT FOR SUSPECT
Authorities continue to search for Nanticoke homicide suspect Antoine McNeal, 32, last known to live in Wilkes-Barre.
Anyone with information about McNeal's whereabouts is asked to call state police at Wyoming at 570-697-2000.
DONATE TO FUNERAL COSTS
The family of Nanticoke homicide victim Brandon Smith, 20, is trying to raise money to pay for $2,000 they still owe in funeral costs.
To donate, go to www.gofundme.com/3boa8v4.

1/20/2017
Suspect named in Nanticoke murder
Eric Mark - Citizens Voice

Police have named a suspect in the murder of a Nanticoke man early Wednesday morning.
Antoine McNeal, 32, of Wilkes-Barre, shot and killed 20-year-old Brandon Smith outside Smith’s home on West Church Street in Nanticoke at 2 a.m. Wednesday, police allege.
Police obtained an arrest warrant against McNeal on Thursday. He had not been located as of Thursday night and is considered armed and dangerous, police said.
According to police, Smith and McNeal got into an altercation that resulted in McNeal shooting Smith several times.
An autopsy conducted Thursday morning determined that Smith died of multiple gunshot wounds inflicted during a homicide, according to the Luzerne County Coroner’s Office.
McNeal faces charges of homicide, illegal weapons possession, criminal use of a communication facility and evidence tampering, according to court records.
Anyone with information about McNeal or his whereabouts is asked to call state police at Wyoming at 570-697-2000.

1/18/2018
Neighbors question safety after Nanticoke fatal shooting
jhalpin@citizensvoice.com

Gunshots rang out on the west side early Wednesday, leaving one man dead and some neighbors questioning their safety in an era of absentee landlords.
The victim, Brandon Smith, 20, was shot repeatedly outside a home at 185 W. Church St. about 2 a.m. following an altercation with a person with whom he appeared to be acquainted, according to state police.
“We do believe that it’s possible that it can be (drug) related, but right now all of the evidence isn’t in,” said Nanticoke police Chief Thomas Wall, whose department is jointly investigating the slaying with state police. “We have some leads but we don’t have anybody in custody at this time.”
Witnesses reported hearing gunshots break the early morning quiet in an area that has had recent problems.
“I heard two, possibly three, gunshots,” said a witness who did not want to be identified for her safety. “And then about two seconds later I heard the guy scream.”
Police rushed to the scene and arrived to find Smith outside the home, suffering from multiple gunshot wounds. He was taken to Geisinger Wyoming Valley Medical Center in Plains Township, where he was pronounced dead about 3 a.m., according to the Luzerne County Coroner’s Office.
An autopsy is planned for Thursday morning.
Smith did not appear to have a criminal history in Pennsylvania based on the birth date state police provided.
But neighbors of the home where he died say the location was known as a troubled property.
Desiree Deitz, 35, said the tenants — Smith, a woman and a young girl — have only lived at the property a few months but have already earned a reputation for disrupting the peace.
“They’re constantly fighting, they got their window smashed out a couple weeks ago,” Deitz said.
The house has seen high turnover in recent years, as has another nearby property she said has been causing problems with drugs.
Deitz blamed the neighborhood’s problems on absentee landlords who only care about collecting the rent.
“That’s the problem in this town. The absentee landlords, they don’t care. They rent to whoever and then we are affected,” Deitz said. “It’s sad because I’m trying to raise a family. They’re trying to raise a family. Our neighbors have been here for years. Our friend across the street, she lives there alone. She’s lived there her whole life. It’s terrifying. It really is terrifying. I don’t like to come home and see police crime-scene tape down the street from my house.”
The shooting caused police to close West Church Street down for hours as they processed the crime scene. By Wednesday afternoon, the street had been re-opened to traffic.
While a reporter was on the scene, state police investigators returned to look for evidence that was mentioned in an interview, Wall said.
“Right now, we’re just doing some interviews and following up on some leads that we have,” he said.
The shooting is the second Nanticoke has experienced in recent weeks.
Kenneth Powell, 30, was shot in the back after allegedly confronting an unidentified man who broke into his East Spring Street home the morning of Dec. 8.
Powell and his girlfriend, Courtney Padden, 26, were presented with felony drug-trafficking charges after police say they found a large bag of marijuana, drug packaging materials and nearly $13,000 in cash inside the home.
Smith’s death is the second homicide of the year for Luzerne County following the Jan. 11 slaying of Brock Earnest, 40, of Montandon. Keith Williams, 40, is charged with criminal homicide after prosecutors say he shot Earnest, who was sitting on a couch, following a fight between the men at Williams’ home in Fairmount Township.

1/18/2017
SCI-Retreat forum focuses on safety
Eric Mark - Citizens Voice

A public forum Tuesday on the potential closure of State Correctional Institution at Retreat focused on the potential danger to corrections officers and inmates.
Don Williams takes that issue personally. His son, Eric Williams, was killed in the line of duty as a corrections officer at U.S. Penitentiary-Canaan in Wayne County in 2013.
On Tuesday, Don Williams led the forum at Luzerne County Community College devoted to keeping SCI-Retreat open. He implored Gov. Tom Wolf not to close SCI-Retreat — Newport Township’s largest employer — or other state prisons as a cost-cutting measure.
The state Department of Corrections on Jan. 6 issued a list of five state prisons, including SCI-Retreat, two of which could be closed to cut expenses from the state budget.
Closing prisons and moving inmates to other correctional institutions with empty beds would put more corrections officers and inmates at closer quarters — where bad things can happen, Williams said.
“We’ve established there is going to be overcrowding,” he said. “It’s a formula for disaster.”
Williams noted that when his son was killed by an inmate wielding a home-made weapon, three things stood out: He was alone, he was unarmed and the prison was overcrowded.
The greater the number of inmates a corrections officer must supervise, the greater the chance of an inmate attack on an officer, according to Williams, who is president of Voices of Joe, an advocacy group that lobbies for improved working conditions and safety for corrections officers.
“Altering the staff ratio by 1 percent will increase assaults by 30 percent,” said Shane Fausey, vice president of Voices of Joe.
Fausey asked the many corrections officers in attendance if they had ever been attacked by an inmate. More than a dozen hands instantly shot up into the air.
“What do you think the end result will be?” if state prisons fill to capacity or beyond, Fausey asked.
Fausey and Williams questioned whether closing state prisons would save as much money as Wolf projected — or even save anything at all, after the final accounting is done.
All it would take is one riot for the prison consolidation plan to wind up costing more than it saves, Fausey said.
He cited the days-long riot at Camp Hill state prison in 1989 as a bad precedent. It cost $14 million to repair the damage and clean up after the disturbance, he said.
“That’s a far cry from the pennies they are going to save by closing prisons,” Fausey said.
There could be a societal cost as well, Williams said. If prison populations reach or exceed maximum, parole boards might release some inmates early to ease overcrowding, he said.
“One of my biggest fears is they are going to release people into society with no plan for how to deal with them,” Williams said.
Prison consolidation and overcrowding would impact the many inmates who require mental health treatment, according to Tuesday’s panel — which included state Rep. Gerald Mullery, D-Newport Township, state Sen. John Yudichak, D-Plymouth Township, Luzerne County District Attorney Stefanie Salavantis and county Manager David Pedri.
“How many of these inmates are going to get this treatment, which we are required to give them”? Salavantis asked.
Williams suggested that denying inmates mental health treatment could be cause for federal authorities to intervene.
The panel unanimously supported Yudichak’s call for Wolf to delay making a decision on closing prisons. As of now that decision is scheduled for Jan. 26, with the affected prisons to close by June 30.
“This has been driven by the budget, not driven by safety,” Yudichak said.

1/14/2017
Officials: SCI-Retreat closure would devastate Nanticoke area
emark@citizensvoice.com

It will be bad news for Greater Nanticoke Area School District if State Correctional Institution at Retreat closes as part of a state prison consolidation.
That was the message hammered home at a Friday press conference by state lawmakers, district officials and corrections officers who work at SCI-Retreat, which houses 1,100 inmates and employs more than 400 workers on the prison grounds off U.S. Route 11 in Newport Township.
The closure of SCI-Retreat, and possibly SCI-Waymart in Wayne County or SCI-Frackville in Schuylkill County, would have “a devastating impact” on the economy of Northeastern Pennsylvania and especially communities in the Greater Nanticoke Area, said state Sen. John Yudichak, D-Plymouth Township.
The three prisons are on a list of five state correctional institutions targeted for possible closure as a cost-cutting measure, the state Department of Corrections announced last week.
Gov. Tom Wolf has said he wants to focus on education rather than prisons, Yudichak said.
The senator, speaking in a conference room at his alma mater, Nanticoke High School, described that concept as a false choice.
“Life is not that simple,” Yudichak said. “Crime still exists. Drugs remain a problem.”
Taxpayers should not be forced to choose between safe streets and quality schools, Yudichak said.
Yudichak and state Rep. Gerald Mullery, D-Newport Township, on Friday continued their week-long rally in support of SCI-Retreat, noting that Wolf and state Secretary of Corrections John Wetzel overestimate the cost savings that closing prisons would realize.

According to Yudichak and Mullery:
• SCI-Retreat is the second-largest employer in Greater Nanticoke Area, behind only Luzerne County Community College.
• If the prison closes, the school district would lose about 90 families and 200 students, resulting in a loss of about $100,000 in tax revenue.
• The losses could force district officials to cut programs and services, such as a pre-kindergarten program that district Superintendent Ronald Grevera said the district would like to expand rather than eliminate.
• About 350 SCI-Retreat employees live in Luzerne County, so most school districts in the county would be impacted if the prison closes.

“I am not sure how we would overcome the loss of revenue,” Grevera said.
Four corrections officers at SCI-Retreat, all fathers of children who attend district schools, sat next to the officials gathered at the conference table.
The men and their families face harrowing uncertainty about their future, said Mark Truszkowski of the PA State Corrections Officers Association.
The Department of Corrections has guaranteed jobs somewhere in the state to corrections officers who currently work at prisons that will close, but that will require officers to either relocate or commute long distances, Truszkowski said.
That will affect the officers’ children and families, according to Truszkowski.
“We are hurting the developmental stages of these children,” he said.
Mullery questioned the timetable established by Wolf to decide which prisons will close.
That decision will be made on Jan. 26, Wetzel said last week.
There is no magic to (that) date,” Mullery said.
He and Yudichak urged the governor to extend the deadline and make decisions on potentially closing prisons as part of the state budgeting process, which will last throughout the first half of 2017.
“All we are asking is to extend the deadline,” Yudichak said.
The fight to keep SCI-Retreat open will continue for the 12 days until that deadline arrives.
The state House of Representatives Northeast Delegation will send a letter to Wolf “expressing dismay” at the governor’s plan to close prisons, Mullery said.
The letter will urge Wolf to delay the decision until public hearings are held, at which those affected by potential prison closings may testify, according to Mullery.
Also, busloads of corrections officers plan to attend a hearing in Harrisburg on Jan. 23, at which three Senate committees will review the plan to potentially close state prisons, according to Truszkowski.
“We are going to pack the place,” he said.

1/14/2017
Yudichak, Mullery say closing SCI Retreat would hurt education at GNA
boboyle@timesleader.com

State Sen. John Yudichak said Friday if Gov. Tom Wolf cares more about schools than prisons, he should consider the adverse impact closing the State Correctional Institute at Retreat would have on the quality of education in the Greater Nanticoke Area School District.
Yudichak, D-Plymouth Township, and state Rep. Gerald Mullery, D-Newport Township, held another news conference on the governor’s plan to close two state prisons — this time, the two legislators were at their alma mater, the district’s high school. SCI Retreat is on a list of five state prisons from which two are scheduled to be chosen for closure on Jan. 26.|
Yudichak and Mullery and other state legislators have been asking the governor and Department of Corrections Secretary John Wetzel to extend the deadline to allow for more time to gather information, such as the economic impact any closing would have on the host communities.
“Gov. Wolf wants to invest in schools, not prisons, but that is a false choice,” Yudichak said. “Pennsylvania’s taxpayers want to invest in both. Closing SCI-Retreat will jeopardize $1.6 million in funding for the Nanticoke School District and threatens important educational programs like Pre-K instruction.”
Joining Yudichak and Mullery were Dr. Ronald Grevera, superintendent of the Greater Nanticoke Area School District, district school board members, and five members of the Pennsylvania State Corrections Officers Association who work at SCI Retreat and whose children attend school in the district.
“A closure of SCI-Retreat means we could lose 90 families and more than 200 students,” Grevera said. “We cannot absorb such a staggering exodus of families and students, as well as the second largest employer within the district.” It is simple math — if the prison closes, secure funding for our schools will be undermined.”
Yudichak and Mullery stressed that the prison is integral to the entire community, both as an employer and as an important part of the criminal justice system.
“The 139 heroin overdoses in Luzerne County demonstrates that drug abuse remains a problem in the county and crime remains an issue in our community,” Yudichak said.
Mullery said no one knows “when the dominoes will stop falling” if the governor closes prisons prematurely.
“I have yet to hear a compelling reason why this decision needs to be made on Jan. 26, let alone a compelling reason to target three prisons in Northeastern Pennsylvania,” Mullery said.
Yudichak said closing SCI Retreat would result in a loss of $100,000 in tax revenue to the school district. He said the pre-K program at Nanticoke costs approximately $190,000 per year. He said the loss of revenue would not only have an immediate effect on the program, it could be lost.
Grevera said any cuts to the pre-K program would have a significant, measurable negative effect on the quality of education in the district. He said elementary students have been found to be better at reading and math because of the pre-K program.|
“We should be expanding our pre-K program, not cutting it,” Grevera said. “With a potential loss of $1.6 million in funding, I’m not sure how we would ever recover from that.”
The DOC and Wolf Administration has been holding meetings to determine the economic impact closing a prison would mean to each of the five possible areas. Yudichak and Mullery have estimated closing SCI Retreat would see a $57.3 million hit to the region’s economy.
The legislators have asked that Wolf delay a decision on prison closings and resume budget talks, with the hope that enough cuts can be found to avoid significant measures, such as closing two prisons. Some 2,500 inmates would have to be relocated and about 800 employees reassigned if two prisons are shut down.
Yudichak cited Northeastern Pennsylvania’s 6.3 percent unemployment rate, stating that closing SCI Retreat would see that number rise significantly.
Yudichak and Mullery said they feel state legislators have been shut out of the decision-making process.
“These are tax dollars,” Yudichak said. “We should be a part of this process.”
Mullery said there are some 2,000 to 2,500 state inmates currently housed in county correctional facilities. He said those inmates, if returned to state facilities, would eliminate the need to close prisons.
“If this is a numbers issue, as Secretary Wetzel has stated, then that would resolve that,” Yudichak said. “There has also been talk of the state accepting federal inmates. We will have a new president on Jan. 20. We should allow for more time to see if that agreement can be reached.”

1/6/2017
Nanticoke police chief responds to criticism of department
mmizenko@timesleader.com

A discussion about illegally parked commercial vehicles during Wednesday's city council meeting caused police Chief Tom Wall to question if some city residents have negative attitudes.
"It's been brought to my attention that nothing happens in Nanticoke." Wall said during the meeting. "Have you read the papers lately?"
Wall said some of the complaints aired at council meetings are "very minuscule" on the police scale and pointed to the number of heroin deaths in the county - 140 in 2016 - as an example of one of the problems his department is forced to face.
Wall did reassure citizens that anything called in to him or the police department will be addressed, but, in some instances, it may be low on the police's radar.
He was answering complaints from John Telencho and Lou Gianuzzi about illegally parked commercial vehicles.
"I know this isn't the most important thing in the world," Gianuzzi said. "But there has to be something flowing."
Gianuzzi is upset that tractor-trailers park on conservation land near the bridge connecting Nanticoke with Plymouth Township. It wasn't the first time Gianuzzi has complained about the trucks. Minutes from as early as June show him questioning interim City Manager Donna Wall about them.
"You don't know what they're hauling," Gianuzzi said, claiming they could be hauling explosives or dirty soil.
Solicitor William Finnegan said he had tried to make contact with the owners of the land to buy the parcel because it sits next to a larger property the city owns. Finnegan said he's reached out "twice in writing and once by phone" to the owner, who has yet to respond.
"It's a grey area," the police chief said about citing the owner of the property.
"It's private property. We don't own it," Donna said.
Gianuzzi was also concerned with the loss of a $40,000 contract between the police department and Warrior Run to patrol the borough. Finance Director Jennifer Polito said the appropriate revisions to the department's budget have been made.
"We did pull the $40,000 from the budget. … We're going to hopefully try to increase revenue in the police department," Polito said.
The next council meeting will be held 7 p.m. Jan. 18 in council chambers, 15 E. Ridge St.

Happy New Year - 2017 !!
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