Commissioners discussed what to do with the former county jail.
By MARY GRZEBIENIAK
MERCER, Pa. -- Bid specifications are being prepared for copy machine lease agreements, a new available option that would charge only a fee per copy and that could save the county thousands of dollars a year, officials said.
Proposals have been offered by four copier companies, Bill Boyle, director of administrative services, told Mercer County commissioners at their chief clerk's meeting Tuesday.
County Solicitor Mark Longietti told commissioners, however, that the nature and cost of the proposed agreements require that they be advertised for competitive bids.
Buying vs. leasing
The county has, in the past, only had the option of buying copiers and buying maintenance agreements for them. With current copiers reaching the end of the life expectancy, buying 11 new machines could cost $125,000 to $150,000 as well as a $22,000 annual maintenance contract, Boyle said.
Leasing, on the other hand, would only cost in excess of $10,000 for the 1.5 million copies run by the county each year, as well as for the cost of paper.
To protect the bidding process, Boyle would not give an exact figure on the copying cost. He said, however, that it would be at a substantial cost savings over buying machines. The copier companies would maintain the machines and pay for ink and all other costs.
Commissioners agreed to have specifications prepared. They want the specs to place limits on how long a machine could be down for repairs and wanted a contract "escape clause." They also wanted to see if a three-year contract was available although all four companies have proposed five-year plans.
The four companies which have submitted proposals are Hicks Office Supply, Hermitage; Canon Business Solutions, Moon Township; ComDoc, Youngstown; and Lanier Business Equipment, Pittsburgh, Boyle said.
In other business, commissioners said they would like to see the hiring procedure for Children and Youth Services changed from civil service to a merit system.
Forty-five CYS employees and two administrators from the Mental Health/Retardation Department are the only county employees under the civil service system.
All MHRD employees were formerly under the system but were converted to merit hiring several years ago, a move Boyle said makes hiring "much more efficient." Boyle called the civil service procedure "antiquated and cumbersome," and Commissioner Olivia Lazor said it means positions go unstaffed during the six months it takes to hire someone.
Under civil service, applicants take a test and the county is only allowed to hire one of the top three scorers. Lazor said that for some jobs, an applicant might be unsuitable and have no knowledge of the job requirements even though they scored well on the test.
Fiscal Director John Logan said a merit system also provides regular evaluations and allows the interviewer to hire based on employee interviews.
There is a move by the County Commissioners' Association of Pennsylvania to allow counties to convert such employees to a merit system. CCAP is planning to contract with a California company that organized a changeover for the entire state of California to do a pilot feasibility study with 10 Pennsylvania counties.
Although Mercer commissioners would like to participate, they would have to come up with $75,000 to pay for the study, a sum they could not afford unless it is later reimbursed by the state, which is uncertain.
Future jail uses
Commissioners also discussed possible uses for the county jail, which will soon be vacated when the new jail opens. The South Diamond Street building could be used as a holding facility for prisoners, or for badly needed storage space for county records that must be retained.
Boyle said the county has run out of storage space and added that the state has "strict and even ridiculous" requirements for records retention. "We have to keep an employee's personnel file for seven years after he dies," he said.
Commissioners want the original architects, HHSDR Architects and Engineers, Sharon, to assess the building for potential uses. But they said first it will have to be cleaned and local use ordinances and handicap accessibility checked.