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Washington Township police get individual contracts

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Thursday, Sept. 12, 2013, 12:56 a.m.
 

A divided Washington Township Board of Supervisors Wednesday provided job security to four full-time police officers.

In a 2-1 vote, the board approved five-year contracts for Lt. John “Mac” McLaughlin and officers Jeremy Hoffman and Brandon Zuraw. Police Supervisor Ray Moody received a seven-year contract.

Supervisors Arnie Dull and Jamie Miller approved the contracts – a first for every officer but Moody. Chuck Yusko opposed the action.

It's the first contract for McLaughlin in 23 years on the township force. McLaughlin said he had unsuccessfully asked previous administrations for contracts.

Dull compared the contracts with similar deals for the township road crew and the municipal authority.

Dull said the decision to draw up the contracts was made at a June 5 meeting, “and I'm going to make a motion to approve them.”

“Who approved them?” Yusko asked, adding later that, “I must've been sleeping at that meeting.”

“You must have been,” Dull replied. “You're absolutely right. You must have been, because you were asked.”

The contracts stipulate that Moody – currently on disability – will be paid $23.50 per hour, the same rate as road crew workers.

McLaughlin currently makes $19.25 per hour and Hoffman and Zuraw $17 per hour.

Their contracts provide a 50-cent-per-hour raises in each of the first four years and a 75-cent-per-hour raise in the fifth year.

The contracts include medical, vision and dental coverage, with officers contributing 5 percent toward those costs and 5 percent toward the police pension fund, Dull said.

The contract provides for new bulletproof vests, when necessary, and a $500 annual uniform allowance, Dull said.

“They receive the same benefits the other (township) employees receive, no more, no less,” Dull said.

“There's an overtime provision, which is what they've been getting all along. I don't think they're excessive with any stretch of the imagination and they're doing a great job for this community.”

“Don, before we go any further, are these legal contracts?” Yusko asked Solicitor Don McCue. “Are these legal contracts?”

“I have drafted the contracts the best I can under Pennsylvania law, taking into consideration the limitations and restrictions, and I've included provisions that are set forth in the Police Tenure Act with regard to the contracts themselves,” McCue said.

“Whether or not these are legal contracts is going to have to be finally decided by some judge either at the Court of Common Pleas initially, and/or if it goes on appeal, to some judge at the Commonwealth Court.”

Township road workers are union members and Washington Township police are not.

“It's not what you would normally expect when you talk about a contract obligation because the employees not covered by a union contract are at-will employees in the commonwealth,” McCue said.

“When you're dealing with police officers in a second-class township, you have to take into consideration the Police Tenure Act, and that gives the police officers some level of security and protection, but it's not exactly the same as a legally binding contract.”

Yusko claimed the contract will be a burden to Dan Moody, who defeated Miller in the May primary and is running unopposed on both tickets in the November election.

“It provides some level of protection for them,” Dull said of the police. “The new person could come in and wipe everything out because you don't have a contract.”

Yusko and resident Janice Amoroso questioned whether the township had enough money to honor the contracts.

Dull said there is money in the budget, and the township stands to save approximately $92,000 in annual costs for part-time officers.

After the meeting, Dull cited an increase in crime along with a high turnover of part-time officers who left the township for better opportunities. He also noted the township's older population.

“When everyone talks about cutting the budget, one of the first places they look is public safety,” Dull said. “I ask you: ‘What is the price of safety and peace of mind?'”

After the approval, Yusko issued a stern warning.

“I will be around checking on them,” he said of the police.

By the same 2-1 vote, the board allocated $51,754 in Marcellus shale money to pay off two police department vehicles, with $6,000 going to the fire department for radios and equipment and another $6,000 for a parking lot project at the Center on the Hill. In all, the township received $75,029 in drilling money on July 1.

Surplus noted

The township received its 2012 independent audit results, which showed a surplus of $51,632.

The supervisors accepted, with regret, the resignation of Gary Verkleeren from the municipal authority. The township will advertise a replacement in the coming weeks.

Rick Bruni Jr. is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at rbruni@tribweb.com or 724-684-2635.

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