TOWANDA -

The Bradford County Courthouse might once again become a site where the public could apply for U.S. passports.

The Bradford County commissioners announced on Wednesday that they are trying to arrange for the passport service to resume at the courthouse.

"It (resuming the passport application service) needs to be done," said Doug McLinko, chairman of the Bradford County commissioners. "It's incredibly important."

The Bradford County Prothonotary's Office, which is located in the courthouse, shut down its passport application service in September 2013.

"We're the first county in the state that has stopped (processing) passports," Bradford County Prothonotary Sally Vaughn said. The only location in Bradford County where citizens can currently apply for a passport is the Troy post office, she said.

The passport service would resume in the Bradford County Commissioners' Office, which is located in the courthouse, rather than in the Prothonotary's Office, McLinko said.

Vaughn has blamed the Bradford County commissioners for the shutdown of the service. She said the commissioners have refused to replace a full-time employee in the Prothonotary's Office who resigned last year for medical reasons. Without the full-time position filled, the Prothonotary's Office does not have enough staff to handle the passport service, Vaughn has said.

The commissioners say they won't fill the position until a study is completed, which will look at the staffing needs of the Prothonotary's Office.

The study will compare the workloads and staff levels in the prothonotary's office to other prothonotaries' offices, the commissioners say. The study will also look at whether Vaughn has taken measures to make her office run as efficiently as possible, so that the commissioners will know if she really needs additional staff, McLinko said.

He said the study is justified because the budget for the Bradford County Prothonotary's Office is "already a lot more than at other prothonotaries' offices" in other Sixth-Class counties, McLinko said. And, at the same time, a lot of prothonotaries' offices don't have as many staff as the Bradford County Prothonotary's Office does, he said.

The commissioners say they have hired former Bradford County Prothonotary Wanda Fulkrod, who currently serves as a consultant to prothonotaries' offices and clerks of courts, to conduct the study.

However, since Fulkrod was hired in February, she has not been able to do much work on the study, because Vaughn has not allowed Fulkrod to go into the Bradford County Prothonotary's Office to conduct the study, McLinko said.

Fulkrod was to be paid $50 per hour to conduct the study, Vaughn said.

With the study unable to move forward, the commissioners are now trying to see if the Bradford County Commissioners Office, which is also located in the courthouse, could provide the passport application service, McLinko said.

"We decided we'll just do it ourselves, because it is that important," McLinko said.

The commissioners believe their office can offer the service without adding any additional staff, McLinko said.

McLinko said he has been in contact with Linda Schaidt of the U.S. passport agency to try to arrange for the commissioners' office to provide the service.

Schaidt is not aware of other county commissioners' offices offering a passport service, but said she would find out if it was allowable to have the passport service resume at the Bradford County Commissioners' Office, McLinko said.

The Bradford County commissioners are now waiting to hear back from Schaidt, he said.

Vaughn said her solicitor, Frank Niemiec, advised her to not allow Fulkrod to conduct the study in her office, because it would be "very discriminatory."

The commissioners are not undertaking similar studies in other offices in the courthouse, she explained.

She also said it is unfair for the commissioners to not replace the staff person she lost.

"I don't think any of the other prothonotaries' offices have lost staff," Vaughn said. "And I don't think any other office in the courthouse has lost staff."

Vaughn has said that her office is not required to offer the passport service.

Vaughn said that if the Bradford County Commissioners' Office is not allowed by the federal government to provide a passport service, the service might be established at the post office in Towanda. The Towanda post office is interested in starting a passport application service, Vaughn said.