Boro Council Wraps Up Police Issues
McConnellsburg Borough Council members, along with their solicitor, reviewed the final impact agreement with the Mc- Connellsburg Police Association and asked their solicitor to assist them in accounting for borough property at their regular meeting held last Wednesday evening.
As reported last week, the two borough police officers whose employment ended at 11:59 p.m. on December 31, 2008, received additional pension and healthcare benefits, paid time for any future required court appearances, as well as payouts for sick leave, personal leave and vacation days accumulated but not used by the end of their contract in the binding arbitration agreement finalized last month. That agreement cost the council about $53,500 in leave payout and up to $24,000 per year for three years in health benefits. Additional contributions to the pension fund will be taken out of the police pension fund, however.
In commenting on the agreement, council President Rick Buterbaugh said, "I wish it had been a little more in our favor, but it is what it is." Councilwoman Pat Frazier said, "I think we should be very careful in the future with regard to any hiring." However, all council members agreed that their budget simply could not support any police department in the future. Buterbaugh said, "The only way a police department could be economically feasible would be if it were regionalized." He added that he had not seen any support for that from surrounding municipalities.
Council members also discussed the whereabouts of the former police officers' weapons, including two handguns and a rifle. They were reportedly turned into the Pennsylvania State Police. However, council, calling the weapons "saleable and borough property," instructed solicitor Carlton Walker to determine their whereabouts. Walker was also instructed to ask that the borough's computer hard drive be returned or replaced in a timely fashion so that the computer can be operable.
It was also reported that the officers kept keys to their former office in order to access the evidence safe for future testimony and court cases. Council asked Walker to see if evidence can be transferred to the Pennsylvania State Police so that council can gain access to the keys and combination to the safe and that keys to the building can be returned to council.
Anthony Busillo, a Harrisburg based attorney and counsel and arbitrator for the Mc- Connellsburg Police Association, called the final agreement "a fair resolution of the matter." Busillo went on to say, "It was the best of a bad situation because these officers obviously wanted to continue their careers. This is a nowin situation for anyone, especially for the borough citizens, and I believe that will become very clear very soon."
Busillo has maintained throughout the disbandment process that "there was no legitimate reason" for it and has discounted the council's statement that the borough could not afford to have a police department. Busillo said it likely would have cost the borough about $175,000 in 2009 to retain the police. In the meantime, he said, the borough expects to end 2009 with a $275,000 surplus even after cutting taxes two mills.
Busillo said that during the binding arbitration hearing, three of the seven council members remained in favor of keeping the police department. Busillo also said, "There were no meaningful negotiations in trying to come to an agreement for a new contract. "There was an initial exchange of proposals and that was it," he said.
In a related matter, Sheriff Keith Stains met with council members to again request their consideration in selling the police cruiser to the county. Sheriff Stains had met earlier with the council and said the county would be interested in purchasing the car for the sheriff's department since it already has county-purchased equipment in it, such as a computer used for Justice Network queries and other radio equipment. Attorney Walker told council it could sell the vehicle to the county without advertising for bids since it would be considered a governmental transfer. Council members and fire company members Mike Chilcote and Lee Rager then also said the fire company would be interested in purchasing the cruiser. Walker said the fire company would not be considered a governmental transfer agent in the matter, but that the borough could put the cruiser, a 2001 model with 70,000 miles, up for bids. However, if the cruiser were put up for bids and not sold to the county, the bid would have to include the removal of the county's property.
Council decided to ask the county sheriff for a formal written offer on the vehicle to be presented at February's meeting. If the offer is acceptable, the cruiser will be sold to the county. If the offer is not acceptable, it could be offered for bids.
Members also discussed the enforcement of parking meters now that the police department has been disbanded. It was noted that anyone could be assigned those duties, and council said they do plan to enforce metered parking and will not tolerate all-day parking in the downtown. No formal action was taken, however.
During new business, council met with Stephen Johnson, who recently purchased a property on North Third Street. Johnson asked for a variance on one of the lots on the two-lot property, saying he plans to build a single-story dwelling on the lot and needs a variance on setbacks. Johnson went on to say that he plans to start a business in Fulton County and would use the single-story dwelling as a model home for homes he intends to build in the county. The area is zoned residential. Johnson was instructed to submit a formal proposal and drawings spelling out the variances requested and present it to council at the February meeting.
Also, during new business, council met with Steve Thomas of the county's planning office for a report on the updating of the borough's zoning plan and ordinance and establishment of a subdivision plan and ordinance.
Thomas reported he believes he can get a matching grant to update the borough's zoning ordinance at a cost of $25,000. While the matching grant would pay $12,500. Thomas believes he could secure CDBG funding for $7,500 and the borough would be charged $5,000.
With regard to a subdivision ordinance, the borough would join Brush Creek, Licking Creek, Taylor and Union townships in the planning effort and it would cost $20.000 with $10,000 in grant funds matched by $2,000 per municipality.
Thomas said that Rettew of Lancaster County has been chosen to do the subdivision and zoning work for the county and municipalities. He also told council that the sum of the borough's contribution could be paid in 50 percent installments, with $3,500 to be paid in 2009 and a like amount to be paid in 2010. Thomas asked council to pick at least one council member for the work group and submit that name to the planning office. No final action was taken on that choice.
Council members voted to reappoint Allen Cover to a fiveyear term on the Water Authority and Kirk Cover to a five-year term on the Sewerage Authority.
Council also agreed to retain Keller Engineer of Hollidaysburg as the borough's engineer on an as-needed basis.
The council president signed a CDBG agreement with the county for the second round of curb cuts in the borough.
Borough secretary Jack Fields was appointed the borough's Right to Know open records officer.
Council briefly discussed the Local Economic Revitalization Tax Assistance (LERTA) program and agreed they would like to participate, but cannot do so unless the school district also agrees. Attorney Walker suggested council delay its decision until the school district has made a decision.
Councilman Mike Chilcote reported that the fire company has had only two worker compensation claims last year. The borough carries the worker's compensation for the fire company.
Finally, during new business, council voted to again contract with P&W Excavating for a oneyear period to use the company's dump trucks for snow removal downtown at a cost of $75 per hour.
At the beginning of the meeting, Franklin County attorney Shawn D. Meyers met with council members. Myers is a candidate for judge of the Court of Common Pleas of the 39th Judicial District, which comprises Franklin and Fulton counties.
During regular business, council approved payment of December bills in the amount of $23,759. It was noted that $726 was paid for the neutral arbitrator in the police arbitration matter. Receipts for the same period were $27,578. Checks were written for $18,921.53 leaving a January 1 balance of $33,043.
Council members present included Rick Buterbaugh, Travis Bard, Lee Rager, Pat Frazier, Mike Chilcote and Mayor Jim Stenger.
Borough Council meets with first Wednesday of each month at 7:30 p.m. at the Fulton House. The next meeting is scheduled for February 4, 2009.