SHARON City, county officials concerned over sex offender group home
Mayor David O. Ryan said he doesn't want the facility in Sharon.
By HAROLD GWIN
VINDICATOR SHARON BUREAU
SHARON, Pa. -- City and county officials want more information on a plan to put a group home for juvenile male sex offenders just one block from Sharon Junior-Senior High School and Case Avenue Elementary School.
All or most of the 12 young men to be housed there would come from the Allegheny County (Pittsburgh) area, said Beverly Burrows, director of Mercer County Children & amp; Youth Services.
Two private individuals are seeking state licenses to open the home in a building at East State Street and Strawbridge Avenue, she said.
It's a location that she and Mark Benedetto, director of the county's Juvenile Probation Department, have some concerns about.
So does Mayor David O. Ryan, who said he has very little information about the project so far.
The mayor said the facility won't be coming to Sharon if he can prevent it.
If the offenders are coming here from Allegheny County, "Keep them down in Allegheny," he said.
Benedetto said his office won't be involved in the operation in any fashion but he has been advised of the plan.
Putting it close to the schools and perhaps sending its occupants into the Sharon schools to continue their education "is a safety issue for me," he said.
Burrows said she has a similar concern and wants to arrange a meeting with Ryan, police Chief Tom Burke and Dr. Donna DeBonis, superintendent for the Sharon schools, to discuss the project and get their response on behalf of the community.
If most of the offenders are from Allegheny County, why bring them here? she asked.
"I think the community should be aware of what is happening," she said, noting the project developers, whom she identified as Michael Sember and Regis Salaga, have submitted a project plan to her office as required by the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare (DPW).
No authority to stop it
Burrows said that although the project, dubbed Phoenix Youth Services, is required to seek a recommendation from her office when it goes after a DPW license to operate, she doesn't have the authority to stop it.
The state could grant the license despite any objections that might be raised, she said.
The city might not be able to stop it, either. If it is proposed in an acceptable zoning district, the city would have no legal grounds to deny an occupancy permit, said Frank Smeraglia, city zoning officer. Group homes also have special privileges under federal law, he said.
Burrows said the plan no longer calls for the offenders to attend Sharon schools but said the facility apparently intends to instruct them on the premises with an on-staff teacher and aide in conjunction with the local school district and the Tri-County Intermediate Unit in Edinboro.
The project is at the preliminary stage and will have to go through DPW and federal Occupational Safety & amp; Health Administration licensing procedures before it can open, a process that can take months, Burrows said.
Efforts to reach Sember and Salaga for comment were unsuccessful.