Three Democratic candidates for Fayette County commissioner are vying for two open slots in the May 21 primary election.
Vincent A. Vicites, 58, of South Union Township is seeking his second consecutive and sixth overall four-year term but is joined on the ballot by two challengers.
Kevin D. Jones, 51, of Fairchance, and Harold L. Whyel, 58, of Springhill Township are also hoping for a Democratic nod.
Jones, who has worked at Fayette County Head Start, as a history teacher in Albert Gallatin School District and a manager at TeleTech (now TTEC), said the county needs to focus on increasing its population by filling business parks with establishments that employ county citizens. He recommended a door-knocking campaign supported by the commissioners, local chambers of commerce and successful area businesses.
“To be able to have a representative like Boeing go in with us to be able to say, yes, we found success here in Fayette County … these other businesses need to go with us together as we knock on doors to show we have a track record of success,” Jones said, alluding to the Argon ST/Boeing facility in Georges Township.
Vicites said his number one priority is workforce development and emphasized the importance of area career and technical centers and other business schools.
Whyel, ambulance director for the Point Marion Volunteer Fire Department and a retired state Department of Transportation municipal services manager, said the county needs to act to bring in manufacturing industries.
“ … People want to see better-paying jobs rather than working in the service industry like working at restaurants (or) gas stations,” Whyel said.
Considering a new county prison
Last year, the commissioners received the deed for the former U.S. Army Reserve Center on Route 21 in Uniontown at no cost, touting plans to make the site the new location of the Fayette County Prison.
The current prison in Uniontown was constructed 131 years ago. The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit last June against the prison board on behalf of inmates over alleged inhumane conditions at the prison.
“(We were) able to get six acres of property … and 15,000 square feet of buildings for zero dollars,” said Vicites, who supports putting the new prison at the former reserve center to avoid land acquisition costs and keep the round-trip distance to and from the courthouse as short as possible (two miles).
Vicites said the county has interviewed seven architectural/engineering firms, will shortlist “a couple of them” and do a second round of interviews.
“(W)hat I said four years ago and what I say every day, this facility will be as a cost-effective as possible for the taxpayers,” Vicites said. “And then once it’s bid out, we’ll know at that point (what the price tag will be).”
Based on interviews with architects, Vicites said it will take nine to 12 months to come up with a facility design and 18 to 24 months to build the facility.
“(W)e have to make sure we have sufficient space for different kinds of functions in the prison … have areas where there’s places to do treatments for the inmates that may need them, medical, any kind of treatment they need for drugs and alcohol,” Vicites said.
Jones called the reserve center an “incredibly convenient” prison site due to its close proximity to health and veteran services, adding that a small portion of the current prison must be made “more humane and more livable” for temporary transfers there.
“We need to lessen the number of people who are going into the system by actually solving their problems while we’re simultaneously building a humane prison that actually treats prisoners with respect,” Jones said.
Whyel said the county can’t keep “kicking the can down the road” regarding the prison but added he would have to know more about the price tag for new construction and then act accordingly.
“Cost is certainly going to be a driving factor in this,” Whyel said.
Dating back to at least 1996, the Sheepskin Trail is a 34-mile rails-to-trails project designed to eventually extend from Dunbar Township to Point Marion at the Pennsylvania/West Virginia state line. The trail will link with the Great Allegheny Passage to the north and the West Virginia Mon River Rail-Trail System to the south.
Whyel noted the commissioners played a “huge part” in the completion of a 1.7-mile segment of the trail in his area of the county, spanning run from the West Virginia border into Springhill Township and through Point Marion.
“I think the county should do whatever is necessary to continue to make that happen,” Whyel said, touting the importance of keeping in constant contact with stakeholders to try to overcome obstacles to completing the trail.
One of the obstacles for the proposed Uniontown portion of the trail has been a lack of responsiveness from Southwest Pennsylvania Railroad Company, which city officials have reported they’ve failed to establish contact with about an abandoned rail line along Beeson Avenue that the city’s engineering firm, K2 Engineering, would like the trail to follow.
Jones said his contract negotiating experience as former president of the Albert Gallatin Education Association and TeleTech could come in handy to push forward the Sheepskin Trail project, which he said could bring a “serious business boom for … every single small town along the way.”
“(C)ommissioners must push for every revenue source possible and push down any barriers that may be presenting themselves in order to get this trail complete,” Jones said.
Vicites recalled the railroad company had previously torn up the trail in Dunbar Township to put a railyard in but restored it.
“So we’re good there,” Vicites said.
Vicites said the next construction phase of the project will extend the trail from the Route 119 Bridge in Point Marion to Nilan in Springhill Township, a segment for which commissioners approved the beginning of right-of-way plans to acquire 12 properties along last week.
“(H)aving that trail really enhances our chances of getting companies to come here because there’s greater recreational opportunities,” Vicites said.