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District to drop Farnham lawsuit

| Wednesday, July 20, 2005

MONESSEN - The school district will end its two-year legal battle involving property in the city's redevelopment zone but will ask Westmoreland County to resume payments on the parcel.

On the advice of attorney Ira Weiss, the school board decided Tuesday not to proceed with an appeal against Farnham & Pfile Co. Inc. in pursuit of payments on property the firm owns in the city's Riverfront Industrial Park along the Monongahela River.

On June 29, Commonwealth Court Judge Bernard L. McGinley reversed an August 2004 decision by Westmoreland County Court of Common Pleas Judge William J.

Ober that claimed Rostraver Township businessman Doug Farnham owed the district payments or fees for municipal services fees in lieu of real estate taxes at the Keystone Opportunity Zone site. Ober later asked for a review of his own decision

In his ruling, McGinley stated the district is without power to collect payments from Farnham.

"I'm very surprised," board President Roberta Bergstedt said of the judge's decision. "Somebody owes us money. All we know is that we were receiving payments before the sale and until we entered an agreement with Mr. Farnham, and following that agreement everything stopped."

The KOZ was created in 1998. Farnham purchased the site for $1.45 million in June 2001. The district claims it is owed more than $115,000.

An estimate of legal fees incurred through the effort to collect money from Farnham was not available at presstime.

The board met with Weiss to determine its course of action following a special meeting last night. After the meeting, Bergstedt said the board decided to explore whether the county will resume payments to the district.

During Tuesday's special session, the board approved a four-year agreement with the district's custodians.

The new deal with members of AFSME, AFL-CIO, Council 83, Local 769 calls for a 3 percent annual wage increase in each year of the contract, plus paid time off for the Friday after Thanksgiving. The contract is retroactive to July 1.

Superintendent Dr. Cynthia Chelen said the workers will continue to receive the same health insurance coverage the first year of the deal.

After that, the contract will be reopened next year to allow possible changes related to the teachers' contract. District employees are not required to contribute to insurance costs. The teacher's contract will expire June 30, 2006.

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