Hempfield court loss could save PTARC cash

| Wednesday, March 5, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

Hempfield Township's loss is the Penn-Trafford Area Recreation Commission's gain.

Because of a judge's ruling, PTARC officials expect to reap nearly $6,000 in annual savings when director Cheryl Kemerer opts out of receiving medical benefits from the intergovernmental agency later this year to get benefits through Hempfield, her former employer of 22 years.

But some PTARC board members say they are leery about the possibility that they might have to pay Kemerer a $490 monthly stipend — equal to half of the current value of her premium rate — when she begins getting health benefits from Hempfield.

Kemerer is one of five former Hempfield employees who now are entitled to receive lifelong health and life insurance from the township after a decadelong lawsuit in Westmoreland County Common Pleas Court came to an end in late January.

Hempfield supervisors terminated Kemerer's job as recreation director in 2002 amid restructuring by a then-newly elected board of supervisors.

Kemerer, who became eligible for the benefits from Hempfield after turning 55 last year, confirmed Monday she no longer will need to receive benefits through PTARC once she is enrolled with Hempfield's plan. The rec group has offered her a medical package as part of a plan Penn Township negotiated for its employees, although she is not considered a Penn Township employee.

“I would imagine it's going to be a month or so until this is resolved with Hempfield,” Kemerer said.

PTARC board members said they are pleased that the agency no longer will have to cover the full cost of Kemerer's premiums.

However, PTARC board members Toni Ising and Larry Harrison challenged whether she is eligible for the same opt-out pay — 50 percent of the premium cost — that Kemerer saids Penn Township employees receive when they decline coverage.

PTARC has reimbursed Penn Township for the full cost of Kemerer's premiums because it would have been too costly to offer medical, dental and vision insurance to Kemerer as the commission's only full-time employee, board members said. The commission budgeted $13,000 for the expenses in 2014.

Ising, who described the opt-out provision as “very generous,” said she would feel more comfortable if the payment were around $250 per month because the $490 figure is higher than typically is given in the private sector.

Ising, who also is president of the Penn-Trafford School Board, said the district's teachers union currently is requesting an increase in the opt-out pay from $200 per month to $400 as part of a new labor contract.

“I, personally, have a hard time paying somebody $6,000 a year when they're getting benefits somewhere else,” Ising said.

But longtime PTARC board members Randy Dreistadt and Nick Petrucci said PTARC could face its own lawsuit from Kemerer if board members try to deny her the same opt-out percentage rate as Penn Township employees receive.

Kemerer's health plan has been lumped in with Penn Township's for the duration of her decade of work with PTARC, Petrucci said.

Hempfield Solicitor Les Mlakar said last week that the township supervisors would not appeal the Jan. 24 decision by Common Pleas Judge Anthony Marsili.

The township first was required to provide benefits to several former supervisors — who had paid jobs as roadmasters or secretary-treasurer — and their spouses after they left office.

The case then focused on whether other retired or terminated employees were entitled to benefits.

Under the terms of a contract in effect in 2004, when Hempfield filed suit to end the benefits, employees were entitled to receive lifelong health care benefits at taxpayer expense.

Township supervisors argued that previous supervisor boards never approved the benefits.

Staff Writer Richard Gazarik contributed to this story. Chris Foreman is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-856-7400, ext. 8671, or cforeman@tribweb.com.

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