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Export votes to pay volunteer firefighters for flood cleanup

| Saturday, Sept. 5, 2009

Export firefighters who were hired by the mayor as public works employees when the borough was flooded after heavy rains in June will be paid for their services.

Mayor Bob Campagna hired the volunteer firefighters for cleanup detail after the June 16-17 storm and flooding. But the borough solicitor later determined the mayor did not have the authority to offer them wages.

Campagna suggested the firefighters receive a stipend of $10 an hour for 101 hours, plus $132.50 to cover fuel costs.

In August, borough council delayed a motion to pay the firefighters until Solicitor Wes Long determined whether the mayor could hire workers.

"It is my opinion that he doesn't have the authority to make such a hiring," Long said. "I can't find any statutory authority for that. Council decided since (Campagna) made the promise, they would honor that promise."

Council voted to pay the firefighters, but only this time.

"Out of respect for the mayor and the office, we voted to pay them and correct this mistake," said Councilman John Nagoda, who made the motion to pay the firefighters. "We were advised he didn't have the authority to do what he did. It was an emergency situation. It won't happen again. They did an excellent job, but you just can't arbitrarily hire someone."

Campagna was not happy the motion was passed as a correction of a mistake.

"I think it should have been rephrased. The solicitor said he could not interrupt the motion. Nobody proved it was a mistake or an error on my part," Campagna said. "Under emergency conditions, the mayor is responsible for the health and safety of community individuals and businesses. That's why I took the action I did. The town had to be cleaned up. I took the action I deemed necessary."

Councilwoman Melanie Litz, who is a member of the borough fire department liaison committee, said the payments — ranging from $45 to $245 — are taxable.

"Those people will be put on as borough employees for whatever days they worked," Litz said. "Taxes will be taken out accordingly. We're doing this retroactively. It's sort of a one-time thing."

Council had voted in July to donate $1,500 to the fire department. In August, Litz told council the fire department liaison committee suggested using the $1,500 to pay the firefighters the $1,010 and allow the fire department to use the remainder as it wishes.

Now that council has approved the payments, the fire department will be permitted to use the remaining $490.

"It's greatly appreciated," said Terry Seighman, fire department president. "These people were not hired as firemen; they were hired as independent people. The fire department was not in the picture.

"It's a shame they blamed Bob (Campagna)," he said. "He did what is his right to do as far as I'm concerned. (The firefighters) were asked by Bob, and that's the reason it was done. He did what he thought was right. I'm happy they got paid. I'm happy it's behind us."

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