Local prison task force to meet

The group will meet at the airport to discuss possible job losses at the penitentiary.

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WALLA WALLA -- A community task force to preserve jobs at Washington State Penitentiary will meet Thursday.

The meeting will be at 3 p.m. in the Walla Walla Regional Airport terminal's conference room.

Port of Walla Walla Executive Director Jim Kuntz said a main discussion point will be possible job losses at the prison due to looming budget cuts.

A state budget forecast released earlier this month projects a $1.4 billion shortfall between now and the end of 2013. Kuntz said that with the bleak state revenue forecast, all state agencies are going to be required to reduce expenditures including the Department of Corrections.

"This will put the old main unit at the Washington State Penitentiary at risk," he said in an email. "While layoffs are coming, we want to make sure the Department of Correcitons makes the painful cuts in a equitable manner. If possible, no one in the DOC community should have to absorb the majority of the job losses."

Not all the news is bad, Kuntz noted. During the last Legislative session, $42 million was appropriated to build two new units at the penitentiary. "Many task force members were hoping these units could be built before needing to make reductions in staff in the old main," Kuntz said, "(But) the state revenue forecast makes this unlikely."

Andy Porter can be reached at andyporter@wwub.com or 526-8318.

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