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Monroeville police force continues on path toward growth

| Wednesday, Aug. 28, 2013, 9:01 p.m.

Continuing an effort to fill more than a dozen police vacancies, a new batch of Monroeville officers were hired this month.

Four patrol officers are scheduled to be sworn in at the Sept. 10 Monroeville Council meeting.

This follows the hiring of five officers — one of whom has since resigned — in May, and there are plans to hire more.

Monroeville Manager Lynette McKinney said the goal is to increase the police roster from 47 officers to 50 on the recommendation of both the current and previous police chiefs.

New hires over the past six months have helped bolster a police department that some officials and residents said is too small.

Nine officers retired this year, and officials expect seven more officers to retire next year.

“If we need more, get them,” Monroeville resident Robert Serafini said at the Aug. 13 council meeting.

“If we have the money, I'm all for having a full complement of policemen.”

However, some elected officials question whether the municipality can afford new officers.

“We have a shortfall right now in our 2013 budget,” Monroeville Mayor Greg Erosenko said at the meeting. “We have an issue.”

Monroeville Councilman Jim Johns said he worries that the cost of new officers and police equipment could cost other municipal employees their jobs.

McKinney said the municipality can support the salaries of new officers.

“We may or may not have to make budget cuts in the next fiscal year, but I will not compromise public safety to our residents or our businesses,” McKinney said.

McKinney said via email this week that Monroeville politics has kept too many unnecessary full-time positions on the payroll.

“It would not be fair to the taxpayers if we did not investigate these circumstances,” McKinney said.

The budget shortfall this year is due to a miscalculation of property-assessment appeals, Monroeville tax collector Pat Fulkerson said.

Finance and personnel director Susan Werksman said former manager Jeff Silka failed to account for appeals during the budget process last year.

Silka said he was working with the best figures available at the time.

Fulkerson said at council's Aug. 13 meeting that he projects the shortfall will near $500,000 as more property owners appeal their 2012 assessments.

A meeting to discuss the budget shortfall was held before the meeting, though only Erosenko, Johns and councilmen Nick Gresock and Steve Duncan attended, Erosenko said.

“We had a very good discussion, but no decisions were made,” Erosenko said.

“One (council member) did describe to me why they couldn't be here … but all of them should have been here.”

Although a shortfall has been projected, Councilwoman Lois Drumheller points out that not all of the line items in the 2013 budget will max out their allocations.

She said that because of the police retirements, only about $7,000 has been used from the $80,000 that was allocated for overtime pay for police detectives this year.

Council voted 5-2 to transfer $10,000 from the overtime fund to help pay for the police hiring process, in addition to shifting $5,000 from the assistant chief position, which was vacated in February because of personnel moves.

Johns and Duncan voted against the transfers.

Penn Hills employs 50 officers in a municipality with a larger population and higher crime rate than Monroeville but with a smaller business district.

Plum, which is home to almost as many residents as Monroeville but with a smaller business district, employes about 25 officers.

Monroeville officers were the highest paid in the state, as of 2010, according to municipal-finance specialists.

While some Monroeville officials aim for a force of 50 officers, the hiring process has had its hiccups.

Matthew Pastorius was sworn in by Monroeville police Chief Steve Pascarella in May and then submitted a resignation letter in July.

A second officer who was sworn in then was disciplined in July after he lost his gun and stun device on the highway, Pascarella said at the time. He could not be reached for comment for this story.

Kyle Lawson is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-856-7400, ext. 8755, or klawson@tribweb.com.

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