Scranton Manufacturing turning to prison inmates for help with welding

Scranton Manufacturing’s need for welders has prompted management to look “outside the box,” or in this case, “outside the plant.”

Dan Clark of the North Central Correctional Facility in Rockwell City and prison warden Bob Johnson, along with Jim Ober, vice president of operations at Scranton Manufacturing, made a courtesy visit Monday to the Greene County board of supervisors to brief them on Scranton Manufacturing’s intention to use Prison Industry Enhancement to fill a need for welders.

Clark explained the program will operate as vocational training in the prison. Scranton Manufacturing employees will cut steel and make parts. They’ll be shipped to the prison, where eight inmates in the program will make weldments that will go back to Scranton.
Scranton Manufacturing had to demonstrate an inability to hire welders to be eligible to use the program. According to Ober, having inmates do the work will free up the more skilled welders for other work.

Inmates who complete the Prison Industry Enhancement program will earn a welding license. They will be paid the same hourly wage as “civilians” in a similar program. Eighty percent of their wages will be deducted for employment taxes, restitution, child support, court fines, etc. Of the remaining 20 percent, the inmates get half and half goes to the state for administrative costs of the program.

Warden Johnson says the program is a “win-win.” It provides inmates with eight hours a day of useful work leading to skills they can use once they’re released from prison, and employers can get help filling in for employee shortages.

According to Johnson, the recidivism rate is 34 percent for persons in the program and 42 percent for persons not in the program.

On the supervisors’ agenda was consideration of when to make the promised contribution into the health savings account (HSA) of county employees who select the new offering with the health insurance renewal Jan. 1.

The supervisors had committed to contribute $1,000 for an individual or $2,000 for employees with a spouse or family. The question was whether the contribution should all be made Jan. 1 or if it should be split. The supervisors agreed the contribution will serve as an incentive to get employees to participate in an HSA, which in the long run will save the county money.

County engineer Wade Weiss said the fear of incurring a large medical expense early in the year, before the HSA has much of a balance, is employees’ biggest concern in selecting the HSA option.

After considerable discussion the supervisors on a 3-2 vote approved a motion to deposit the full amount ($1,000 or $2,000) at the first of the year. The vote was taken as voice vote, with Peter Bardole, Mick Burkett and Tom Contner voting yes and John Muir and Dawn Rudolph voting no.

A 3-2 vote is unusual for the supervisors. More typically, the supervisors know how each other will vote on a motion before it’s made. This time, Muir and Rudolph did not indicate their preference before the vote was taken.

The supervisors receive the same health benefit as county employees. Every time they vote on an insurance matter they’re voting on something that can impact them personally.

Weiss briefed the supervisors on staffing changes due to the retirement of Don Van Gilder, long time assistant to the engineer. Tanner Stauffer, who has worked for secondary roads for 23 years and has been maintenance superintendent for 12 years, is being promoted to assistant to the engineer. Weiss said Stauffer “is well versed on every road in the county.”
Ryan Baugh will be promoted to maintenance superintendent.

The changes are effective Dec. 1. Van Gilder’s retirement is effective at the end of the year. “It leaves a huge hole when someone like Don leaves,” Weiss said.

Weiss also asked the supervisors to make a decision about funding a $2 million upgrade to the heating/ventilation/cooling system at the courthouse. He’s in the planning stages with BBS Architects. He said he wants to know how far to proceed with the planning to avoid having to do plans over again if this set of plans is shelved.

BBS did a report on the HVAC system in 2015. The supervisors considered the proposal then but ultimately decided to delay the project until they had set aside funds. The county now has $400,000 in that fund.

The supervisors also decided to interview three candidates for the veterans affairs position Tracie Perez left at the end of September. The supervisors will recommend a candidate to the county veteran affairs board for approval, a reversal of how the process has worked before. The supervisors are concerned the county will lose veterans funding if the position isn’t filled soon.

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