Valley is called upon to rally for another major employer

The Northeast Ohio Correctional Center, the 2,016-bed private prison on Youngstown’s North Side, has been an important cog in the Mahoning Valley’s economic wheel for 16 years. With 440-plus employees generating an annual payroll of more than $20 million, the low-level security prison is one of the more stable employers in the region. The need for prisons is constant, regardless of how the economy is performing.

However, there may be situation beyond the control of NOCC’s owner, Corrections Corporation of America, that could result in the facility losing 75 percent of its inmates. That would trigger the elimination of most of the jobs.

Residents of the Mahoning Valley must ensure that Northeast Ohio Correctional Center does not fall victim to a wrong-headed decision by the federal government.

Letters to the U.S. Bureau of Prisons and the area’s elected officials in support of the prison and Nashville-based CCA will go a long way in making the case for the continued housing of federal convicted and sentenced undocumented immigrants for which NOCC is paid $69.72 per person.

The contract with the federal government expires May 31, 2015, and the Bureau of Prisons has indicated that it may consolidate that contract with one that expires April 1, 2016.

The April contract is held by the Moshannon Valley Correctional Center in Phillipsburg, Pa., that currently houses 1,820 inmates. The prison charges the federal government $65.22 per inmate.

The deadline for the new proposal is Aug. 15, which does not give the Valley a lot of time to launch an aggressive campaign on behalf of the Youngstown prison and CCA.

Although Corrections Corporation of America, the No. 1 private prison company in the country, has had a long business relationship with the U.S. government, there’s no guarantee it will secure the contract. Washington first wants to know that a facility housing its prisoners has the full support of the community, and then wants the lowest per-inmate cost possible.

Given that Moshannon already is charging less than Northeast Ohio Correctional, the challenge confronting CCA is obvious.

In a letter to Youngstown Mayor Charles Sammarone, Michael V. Pugh, warden of the North Side facility, made it clear that the federal government is looking to reduce its costs for housing its inmates in private prisons. He noted that while CCA is determined to reduce what it charges the Bureau of Prisons, one of the main concerns is Youngstown’s plan to impose a per prisoner tax that would amount to about $500,000 a year.

Although the 7th District Court of Appeals has ruled against the city, it is not clear what the Sammarone administration will ultimately decide.

Given what’s at risk, and in light of fact that there is a prison in Pennsylvania that must be seen as a strong contender for the new federal contract, we would urge the mayor to shelve the plan for the additional tax.

The future of the Youngstown prison hangs in a balance, and even if every Mahoning Valley resident writes a letter of support, the bottom line will be the cost to the federal government.

Rallying on behalf of a major employer is nothing new for residents of this area. They did it on behalf of General Motors’ Lordstown assembly plant when the auto maker was looking for a plant to build the Chevrolet Cavalier and Pontiac Sunfire, then the Chevrolet Cobalt and Pontiac GS 5, and finally, the Chevrolet Cruze.

Air Reserve Station

The region has also rallied with a grass-roots campaign called SOAR (Save Our Airbase Reservists) to keep the Youngstown Air Reserve Station in Vienna Township off the federal government’s base closing list.

The most memorable, albeit unsuccessful, campaign was launched almost 30 years ago when GM was looking for a site for its new Saturn line. A letter-writing push resulted in hundreds of bags of mail being delivered to GM’s headquarters in Detroit.

As the letters poured in urging GM to build its plant in the Valley, company officials appealed to area residents to stop the writing because the mail bags were stacking up unopened.

GM ultimately selected a site in Spring Hill, Tenn., for the Saturn plant, in part because of the state’s right-to-work law.

The Saturn line has been discontinued, but the Spring Hill plant is producing other GM models.

To understand the importance of NOCC to the Mahoning Valley’s economy, consider that the company pays:

$1.9 million in annual utility use and fees.

$1.9 million in annual property taxes, of which $1.3 million goes to the Youngstown City School District.

Almost $600,000 in spending for goods and services locally.

The future of the Northeast Ohio Correctional Center in Youngstown could well be determined by the Valley’s level of support.

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