Less than an hour after Rush Township supervisors read letters from residents praising the work of the road crew and its foreman Gene Rutch, he found his hours dropped to part-time and his health benefits stopped. Township secretary Terri Conville, who had been taking minutes and answering questions about the proposed budget, continued her work as she learned that her job status had also been cut to part-time with no benefits.
Supervisor Shawn Gilbert, supported by Supervisor William Sanchez Jr., had raised the motion to cut Rutch's and Conville's full-time jobs to part-time and to end their health benefits as a cost-cutting move. Gilbert's motion called for the reduction in hours to "no more than 30 hours a week, starting (Wednesday)."
A related motion called for giving health benefits to full-time employees only.
The move to drop Rutch and Conville to part-time would "save money and benefits and stuff like that," Gilbert said. "I think we have a sufficient amount of time for our work we need in this township to be done by part-time instead of paying full-time. Our benefits are going out the roof. Our Workman's Comp is going out the roof."
The township also has a part-time secretary in addition to Conville.
Supervisors Chairman Steve Simchak voted against the move and asked solicitor Robert T. Yurchak to research the legality of ending the benefits. Rutch and Conville will continue to receive the benefits until the end of the month, pending the results of Yurchak's study.
Conville has been on the job for several years; Rutch was hired in June.
"I was in total disagreement with it," Simchak said after the meeting. "It seems like these other two supervisors just picked and chose... claiming they were saving money. But they only picked two people out of a bunch of people. To me, it sounds like it could be a case for a civil rights lawsuit against the township. There was another full-timer (on the road crew) that they didn't reduce his hours, his workweek. But they're claiming they did it to save the township money. It kind of looks like a spite issue."
Gilbert's motion came at the end of the supervisors' public meeting Tuesday, and after Simchak read aloud letters from residents thanking the township and Rutch. One letter, from Mr. and Mrs. Richard Miller, thanked the road crew "for the great job you did on Hometown Avenue."
Resident Donald R. Serfass wrote that "Mr. Rutch's fast and professional response is something not always seen at municipalities, and I feel Rush Township is fortunate to have him serving in this important capacity. He is a credit to the township."
Sanchez took issue with the Cumberland Avenue job, saying it is a "paper street" which the township does not maintain.
The job changes were foreshadowed earlier in the meeting when supervisors voted to adopt a resolution to allow the Northeast Pennsylvania Alliance to apply on the township's behalf for a state grant to upgrade traffic lights from incandescent bulbs to more energy-efficient LED lights, which are also brighter and last longer.
As part of the grant application process, Conville would have to attend a meeting at the Northeast Pennsylvania Alliance office in Pittston, Luzerne County, to sign forms. But Simchak's motion to permit her to do that died for lack of a second. Gilbert then rescinded his motion to have the township apply for the grant.
In other matters Tuesday, Simchak said the township planned to approach the state Department of Community and Economic Development to conduct a study to determine the feasibility of forming a regional police department.
Aso, supervisors agreed to donate $400 to the Tamaqua Public Library. That's double the amount supervisors gave last year.
Supervisors also agreed to allow Shotgun Enduro motorcycle race to be held in the township on June 20.