WILKES-BARRE — A warehouse next to the Luzerne County prison would be put to good use if the county buys it, the administration said at a recent council real estate committee meeting.
Owned by Joseph Dotzel and J-H Smith Co., the building at 121 Water St. has been occupied by a private painting contractor for at least 28 years, county Manager C. David Pedri told the committee.
The owners recently informed the county they are interested in selling and offered the county the first option to purchase, Pedri said.
Situated on 0.29 acres, the building is assessed at $95,700 and would be purchased for $100,000, Pedri said. The county owns several other properties in the immediate area.
“If the county ever thought of expanding the prison, this would be prime land,” said Pedri.
County officials have periodically discussed building a new prison with a more efficient layout elsewhere, but the idea has been shelved indefinitely because the county still owes $294.4 million in debt repayments.
Mark Rockovich, correctional services division head, told the committee the building is “extremely valuable.”
“We could utilize that building a week after we buy it,” he said.
One immediate use would be the centralized storage of inmate clothing and mattresses, which are kept “all over the place” at the cramped prison because there is no available single space large enough, Rockovich said.
The prison also relies on an outside vendor to supply snacks and other commissary items purchased by inmates. County storage for those items may allow the prison to keep this service in-house, reducing the security risk of outside deliveries.
Prison officials also want to increase defense training for correctional officers, which requires group space for mats that would fit in the warehouse, Rockovich said.
Long-term, the building could be remodeled to house low-security female inmates on work release, inmates in drug recovery or inmates unable to fit in the prison due to overcrowding.
“I’m extremely excited about the opportunity for the county to own this, and I’d hope the prison would be granted the access to it,” Rockovich said.
A county purchase also would eliminate security concerns because the county has no control over the building if it is sold to someone else, he warned.
Council approval is required for real estate purchases. The committee agreed to place the matter on the next work session agenda for discussion.
Pedri said he is recommending council fund the purchase with a transfer from more than $4 million in this year’s budget reserve.
County ownership would remove the property from the tax rolls.
Under current tax rates, the county receives $572 in real estate taxes from the property, while receipts are $1,669 for the Wilkes-Barre Area School District. City tax revenue was not immediately available because it does not use county assessments.
Committee members asked about the condition of the building. Pedri said an inspection would be performed as part of a proposed purchase.
Reach Jennifer Learn-Andes at 570-991-6388 or on Twitter @TLJenLearnAndes.