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Fish and Boat Commission seeking to hire waterways officers

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New weapons

The Fish and Boat Commission's waterways conservation officers are getting a new tool.

Each officer will be issued a Windham Weaponry MPC AR-15-style rifle chambered in .223 caliber. That will fill a need, said Larry Furlong, an assistant supervisor of the agency's law enforcement bureau.

Currently, some officers have rifles, he said. Few are alike, he added, noting some are of immediate post-World War II vintage.

Giving officers a standard rifle will promote safety, he said.

Executive director John Arway agreed, saying officers often find themselves assisting police and in situations involving more than fish law violations.

“There's no way you want them out there walking into that dogfight without the proper equipment,” commission board member Ed Mascharka of Erie County said.

Monday, May 5, 2014, 7:27 p.m.
 

HAWLEY — The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission plans to start the process of hiring additional employees this month.

It will figure out how to pay them later.

Tim Schaeffer, deputy director of policy and planning for the agency, said at the commission's quarterly meeting Monday that the agency is seeking recruits for a new class of waterways conservation officers.

The Civil Service Commission will accept applications during a date range that is expected to be announced within days. The goal is to have a list of potential candidates by early August, executive director John Arway said. Candidates would undergo 51 weeks of training, which would put them in the field next summer.

The new officers — perhaps as many as 20 — are needed because the commission has so many vacancies among its field officer ranks, said Larry Furlong, an assistant director in the commission's law enforcement bureau. Sixty-two of those jobs are filled, but 15 are vacant, and that number could grow.

“Within four years, something like 40 percent of our force could retire, potentially,” Furlong said. “I'm not sure they'll all go, but they could.”

Some of those vacancies are in Western Pennsylvania. The commission is down one officer in Westmoreland County and another in Somerset, said Tom Qualters, supervisor of the commission's southwest region office in Somerset. It could be short officers in Allegheny and Armstrong counties in the next year or two if officers who will be eligible for retirement leave, he added.

Qualters is retiring in June, which likely will mean an officer in the field will be promoted to the region office staff, leaving another vacancy.

Training 20 officer candidates would cost about $2 million, Arway said. The commission has that.

What it doesn't have — at least not yet — is the $1.6 million it would take to pay the salaries and benefits of 20 officers, Arway said. The commission will find it by next summer, he said.

But it's also going to have to account for about $9 million in new pension and health care costs, he told board members.

One idea the commission floated more than a year ago was to free up about $2 million by closing two hatcheries and cutting the number of adult trout stocked annually by about 25 percent. State lawmakers talked them out of that and promised to look for ways to give the commission more money.

They haven't yet, so tough decisions still loom, Arway said.

“It's all part of this whole expenditure thing we're going to have to investigate by 2015,” he said.

Bob Frye is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at bfrye@tribweb.com or via Twitter @bobfryeoutdoors.

 

 

 
 


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