Detective to examine Sewickley Township fuel expenditures
Questions surrounding a $40,000 increase in Sewickley Township's annual diesel fuel expenditures for its road departments from 2009 to 2012 has prompted an investigation by Westmoreland County authorities, a probe that a former roadmaster says is politically motivated.
Supervisor Joseph Kerber, who served as roadmaster in 2010 through 2012 when diesel fuel expenditures rose, said he told Westmoreland County Det. Thomas Horan during an interview that the township used more diesel fuel during those years because “there was an increase in the amount of asphalt we were putting down.”
Horan declined to comment on the details of his investigation, which began in June. He said he does not expect to reach any conclusions in the investigation until about mid-August.
Diesel fuel expenditures were above the budgeted amounts in the years 2010 to 2012, but was less than the $60,000 budgeted for 2013.
The township's diesel fuel expenditures increased steadily from $18,239 spent in 2009 to $37,685 in 2010, $53,277 in 2011 and $58,880 in 2012. The cost began to drop the next year, down to $41,248 spent in 2013.
At the same time, Sewickley's asphalt purchasing records show the township bought 1,017 tons of asphalt in 2010; 4,628 tons in 2011; and 9,115 tons of asphalt in 2012 before dropping to 1,804 tons of asphalt in 2013.
An increase in paving resulted in more diesel fuel used in the trucks, the rollers and pavers from 2010 to 2012, Kerber said. Employees would fill up a vehicle with diesel as well as 110-gallon tanks that were transported to the job site to fuel the paving equipment, Kerber said.
The diesel fuel expenditures were lower in 2008 and 2009 because township road crews did not do the paving, Kerber said. Outside contractors also were used in 2013 to pave municipal roads,
After explaining that more diesel fuel was used as township crews did more paving, Kerber said, “I think we got this straightened out.”
Acting on the advice of Daniel Hewitt, township solicitor, Supervisor Wanda Layman declined to comment on any details of the investigation.
Kerber said he believes the investigation was politically motivated.
When Layman and Supervisor Alan Fossi voted to remove him as roadmaster in January 2013, the two supervisors voted to install Layman as office coordinator.
At the same time, Fossi and Layman voted to hire a part-time public works director to maintain the township's 67 miles of roads.
“It's part of a political vendetta,” Kerber said.
Layman, however, denied there was any political motive behind the investigation and said she did not contact Horan. When the Sewickley Township auditors raised questions in the 2013 audit about the diesel fuel expenditures, Layman said she contacted Hewitt, who reviewed the audit and then handled the matter.
The township's 2013 audit found that some employees purchased fuel for vehicles that had been in the shop for the entire day. Other times, an employee who reportedly had a personal day, had filled a vehicle with 71 gallons of diesel fuel, the auditors said.
“Other times, they were out doing one job with one piece of equipment and were noted as filling up another piece of equipment,” the audit found.
Based on a review of documents from the road department, the auditors also said odometer readings were out of sequence in the township's fleet management report for a few days in December 2012.
“We are not sure what the right solution is, but there has to be a better way of tracking what the fuel is being used for and who is purchasing it,” the audit stated.
Kerber said it was human error that resulted in odometer readings that were out of sequence, saying employees likely logged in the incorrect mileage.
In some instances, diesel fuel was used for heating the township's public works building. At other times, two employees used the same fuel card, Kerber said.
Gary Grimm, former chairman of the board of auditors, could not be reached for comment. Grimm resigned from the board in June and was replaced by Lucille Kenderes, who was appointed on July 16.
Joe Napsha is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-836-5252 or firstname.lastname@example.org.