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May 6, 2013

Judge’s office readied: Project lays groundwork for new district borders

EBENSBURG — Work on renovations to a commercial building in Stonycreek Township got underway last week, with Cambria County court officials projecting an August completion date.

The property at 701 Belmont St. will replace the Upper Yoder Township office of District Judge John Barron, now at 110 Sunray Drive.

“I was down there this morning and they are working away,” Cambria County Court Administrator William Valko said Monday.

Beginning in January, the building also will serve as the district judge’s office for many of the communities currently served by the Richland Township office of District Judge Max Pavlovich.

 The move is necessary as Cambria County prepares to decrease the number of district judges’ offices, a step made necessary by order of the state Supreme Court.

In light of declining population in many Pennsylvania counties, and in an effort to reduce state court related costs, the state’s highest court ordered more than a year ago that two of Cambria’s 10 district judge seats be eliminated by the end of this year.

Cambria County President Judge Timothy Creany in 2012 traveled around the county, gathering public input on the best scenario for consolidating the magisterial districts. He and Valko developed a plan.

Earlier this year, the Supreme Court approved Creany’s plan to eliminate the seat held by Pavlovich, who turns 70 this year, and the Cresson seat of Charity Nileski, who chose not to seek re-election.

With the Portage area soon to be merged with Cresson, Creany is closing the Main Street, Portage, office of District Judge Galen Decort and relocating it to Nileski’s Cresson Township office.

The building, located just off Admiral Peary Highway, is leased from the Cresson Township supervisors and has plenty of off-street parking.

With the closing of the Pavlovich office, efforts were made to find a more centrally located space for Barron, Valko said.

“Both of the (existing) offices were on either end of the (new) district and we wanted to bring it to a central location,” Valko said. “This is as close as we can get.”

Creany and Valko have been working with the owner of Barron’s future office and architects since the first of year detailing changes needed to the commercial space for an efficient district court office.

The go-ahead on the work was recently given when the Cambria County commissioners approved a 10-year lease agreement with Project One LLC.

The principal owners of the real estate were identified as P.J. McGowan and Ed Wian.

The rental agreement with the county calls for payments of $2,000 per month for May, June and July, with no additional payment until the premises are ready for occupancy.

Upon occupancy, the rent will jump to $3,713 per month.

Combining the two offices will eventually save some money, Cambria County Controller Edward Cernic Jr. said. But the county is locked into paying the $3,927 per month for Pavlovich’s office until the lease expires at the end of December.

Officials hope the county ultimately will save as much as $60,000 to $80,000 annually through the consolidations.

Salaries of the district judges, currently at $86,639, are paid by the state, but wages of clerical staff and building leases are paid by the county.

The landlord at the Belmont Street property, which was once a commercial insurance office, is paying for the bulk of the interior structural changes and upgrades needed, Valko said.

Cambria County’s inmate work crew will help out later with interior painting and minor work, he said.

Changes needed at what will be Decort's office in Cresson are limited to the addition of a holding cell.

The facility has no secure holding place for those in custody, and providing one likely will involve leasing additional space from the Cresson Township supervisors, Valko said.

There is no timetable for the work at the Cresson office.

While eliminating the two district judge seats means that in some cases police departments and residents may have further to travel, the 2010 census showed the county lost nearly 6 percent of its population since 2000.

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