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Prison closure leaves loss of labor

WINTON – The proposed closing of a minimum security state prison in Gates County could have a detrimental effect on local governments, according to officials.

Hertford County Commissioner DuPont L. Davis said recently he was vehemently opposed to the facilities closing as proposed by Governor Bev Perdue in her 2009-10 budget.

“I think we should flood the Department of Corrections and the Governor with resolutions because that facility saves taxpayers a lot of money,” Davis said.

The commissioner said he realized Gov. Perdue was attempting to save money by closing the prison, but that was also his goal.

“It’s all about saving money,” he said. “Those (honor grade) inmates work in the local area. We need to do everything we can to make sure they don’t close the facility. The governor is trying to save money, but so are we.

“Some people in this area are catching hell,” he said. “They can’t afford to have any more costs passed on to them.”

Davis said the inmate labor in Hertford County saved taxpayers money and Hertford County Manager Loria D. Williams agreed.

Williams said Maintenance Supervisor Vernon Pope reminded her on a regular basis how important inmate labor was to Hertford County.

“The loss of the two laborers we use daily would impact us greatly,” she said. “We use two inmates on an almost daily basis to work for grounds, maintenance and building upkeep.”

Williams said the loss to Hertford County would be basically the same as losing two full-time employees. Those employees would be compensated at $16,000-$18,000 per year plus benefits. In comparison, Williams said she believed the county currently paid about $40 per month for the inmate labor.

Williams said currently the Hertford County Board of Commissioners had taken no action, but there had been staff communication with DOC about the desire Hertford County has to see the prison remain open.

“The board will probably address it officially in the next month,” Williams said. “They haven’t taken action yet, but I do anticipate they will.”

Another entity in Hertford County which uses inmate labor from Gates County is the town of Murfreesboro.

Town Administrator Cathy Davison said the town used inmate labor from Gates County every year to prepare for and clean up after the North Carolina Watermelon Festival.

“It would affect us,” she said. “Without the labor, the setup would fall on the public works department.”

Davison said that department was particularly busy during the summer with mowing grass, fixing water and sewer leaks, picking up yard debris and maintaining the cemeteries.

Representative Annie W. Mobley (D-5th) said she was concerned about the costs to local governments should the prison in Gates County close.

“When you take a place like Gates and all the local municipalities that rely on these minimum security inmates to perform odd jobs at an affordable rate, where will they pick up the labor from,” Rep. Mobley said. “We need to rethink a lot of things.”

Gates County Manager Toby Chappell said his county did use inmate labor, but not to a large extent.

“We get some use, but not enough where if it closed it would derail any projects,” he said.

Ahoskie Town Manager Tony Hammond said that town used inmate labor to a small degree, but would not be majorly affected by the closing.

Gatesville Mayor Elton Winslow said the town had not used inmate labor.

Bertie County and its municipalities draw their inmate labor from Tyrrell County.