SUNBURY - Is it cost effective for Northumberland County to move its offices out of the administration center in Sunbury to the Career and Arts Center in Shamokin?

That question will be researched in the coming months, county commissioners said, although there is already a difference of opinion among them.

"I want to make sure I'm doing everything I can for the taxpayers," Vinny Clausi said. "I think we can save money for the county by doing this."

"I've talked to a number of people from the county, and I hear all the negative aspects about moving to another town and splitting things up," Rich Shoch said.

"At this stage in the game, we have to look at every option to see if we can save money and what is best for Northumberland County," Stephen Bridy said.

Letter to Shik

Clausi, who said he's been working on the proposal for some time, sent a letter to the Shikellamy School District Thursday, inquiring if the district is interested in opening negotiations to purchase the 19,000 square-foot building.

If the building can be sold, Clausi said that there is plenty of room at the Career and Arts Center to handle a move by more than 70 employees.

"Since CareerLink moved out, there is a lot of empty space there. We can utilize that building and save about $200,000 a year," Clausi said.

The move would not only affect the three commissioners and their staff, but employees in the controller, tax claims, county assessment, finance office, information technology and computer services, planning, payroll, human resources, treasurer,

veterans affairs and the conflicts counsel offices. Clausi believes that with a little work, everyone could fit.

"If we can sell the administration building and move into Shamokin, that will take us down from paying for two elephants to one, The administration building is too big for this county's government," Clausi said.

Bridy learned of the plan recently when commissioners were discussing bids to clean the carpets in the Sunbury building.

"We finally got an accurate square footage on the offices in Sunbury, and it came out to 19,000 square feet. That's a lot of space to heat and cool," Bridy said. "When I was discussing it with Vinny, he told me about his plan. I thought it was something we could start looking into."

Nothing settled

Commissioners stressed that no decision has been made.

Bridy said a recent newspaper report on the proposal quoted him as saying the administration building would be good as a prison pre-release center, but he backed off that idea after the story was printed.

"I was misunderstood on that," Bridy said. "My thinking was we could use the proceeds from the sale of the building to create a pre-release center to help control our prison population and generate funds for the county since inmates who work stay there and pay to use the facilities," Bridy said.

But with the building being so close to the athletic fields and Shikellamy High School, there are safety concerns. "I would never vote to put a pre-release center there, because of the school," Clausi said.

Bridy believes the administration center is too extravagant for county needs.

"I've visited other offices, and we do have it much nicer than other counties," Bridy said. "It amazes me that each commissioner here has his own private bathroom. I grew up in a house as the middle of three kids with our parents, and we only had one bathroom in our home."

Bridy said improvements to make all county buildings more energy-efficient would be a help, too.

"It might pay in the long run to build a new building that we can heat and cool for less money. These are all the things that we are crunching the numbers on and considering the best way to go," he said.

In the dark

Shoch said he only learned about the plan Wednesday from a newspaper reporter and talking to other county employees.

"I've not seen any financial analysis or talked with either commissioner about this," Shoch said. "I've heard from a lot of people since then about how this will affect them."

First, Shoch said, there will be a technology expense.

"From what I was told, the Shamokin location does not have the fiber-optic cables that we require for our computer system, like we do in the administration center and in the courthouse and human service buildings," he said.

Efficiency could also be lost, he said. Shoch noted that if there is a problem at another county building, such as the courthouse, the administration building is only a short distance away, not 20 miles away, which would be the case if the offices were located in Shamokin.

Shoch has heard about the proposal to sell the administration center to the Shikellamy School District, but he doesn't think Shikellamy is interested.

"They have two buildings now that are relatively empty, and they don't know what to do with them. Also, their administration building on the island is fairly new, so I couldn't see them moving," he said.

There is another concern about the Career and Arts Center - parking.

"Parking has been a problem since day one at that building," Clausi said. "We can have discussions with the city to see what we can do about that to keep everyone happy."

"We want to provide a place for our employees to park, but we don't want to upset the local residents," Bridy said. "These are all things we must take into account when looking at all the factors."

Those that are currently occupying space in Shamokin, such as Luzerne County Community College, the Brush Valley Chamber of Commerce and Central Susquehanna Opportunities Inc., would be able able to stay in their locations, Bridy said.

"The Northumberland County Authority has about $100,000 in its accounts from rent, but a new roof would suck that up quickly," Bridy said.

All commissioners agreed the issue needs to be researched thoroughly before any decision is made.

"There is no time frame for anything, but we should look at all factors before making any decision," Bridy said.

"This is all in the very early stages of discussion," Clausi said. "If we can't find a buyer, we won't do it. Instead, we will work on other ways to save the taxpayers' money, which is my goal."