West Penn Township has added to its police force while also continuing in discussions about regionalization of police.
On Monday evening, the township's board of supervisors hired Thomas Duarte as a part-time officer, at a starting salary of $13 per hour.
West Penn Chief of Police Brian J. Johnson recommended the hiring of Duarte, who was also interviewed by Supervisors Chairman Alfonso Martinez and Vice Chairman David Zeigler.
"Dave and I interviewed him, and we think he'll be an asset to the township," said Martinez.
West Penn has a police force of three full-time officers, including Chief Johnson, Jason Lorah and Missy Johnson, and part-timers John Kaczmarczyk, John Morgan, Dale Osenbach, William Cope, Jr. and now Duarte.
Meanwhile, Supervisor James Akins announced the township has completed the research requested of it by the Governor's Center for Local Government Services, which is coordinating a feasibility study concerning the regionalization of police forces in the Tamaqua area.
A meeting concerning police regionalization will be held in Tamaqua on Thursday.
"We are following through with the study, without an additional obligation," explained Akins, who added that other municipalities have also approved of the study, as far as he knew.
In other police matters, the board moved to advertise an ordinance for the township to participate in the state's police pension fund.
"When you have three or more full-time officers, you have to be enrolled in the state pension plan," said Martinez, who said the cost to implement the actuarial plan for all three of the township's full-timers would be $13,610, as per Jan. 1 forward.
The money for the pension plan would come out of the township's police equipment budget and would be used toward the pensions, rather than a police vehicle.
Township solicitor Gretchen Sterns said she could have the ordinance ready within a week, allowing for it to be advertised for consideration for the board's March 7 meeting.
In other police business, a request by Chief Johnson to purchase three Glock 22 .40 pistols, including night sights and holsters, was tabled by the supervisors.
Johnson quoted a total price of $1,606.80 from Atlantic Tactical, New Cumberland, Pa., for the weapons.
"Right now, we are carrying our own weapons," explained Johnson. "We used to have duty weapons, but the officers refused to carry them, mostly because they were just old." Johnson said the funds from the police expense budget could be used.
"If someone retires or is let go, can we recover them?" asked Akins about the township buying the weapons.
"They would be issued as duty weapons, then turned back in if we let someone go," said Johnson.
Sterns said the township would have better control over the condition of the weapons if it purchased them.
"We need to make sure we have a regular schedule to inspect and maintain them," she added.
Akins inquired whether the township would need to buy ammunition for the guns. Johnson said the force has the ammo available.
On a 2-1 vote, with Zeigler opposed, the board moved to extend the hours of township office secretary Susan Gibiser to full-time, not to exceed 40 hours per week.
The move is on a trial basis and is retroactive to Jan. 1, according to Akins, who made the motion following an hour-long closed executive session for legal matters.
Sterns said the motion should include that the increase in hours would not activate any full-time benefits during the trial period. An insurance payment had apparently already been made for January, as per discussion between treasurer Karen Wittig and the board.
"No one has been made full-time yet," stressed Akins. "We are going to monitor her hours and see what is needed."
Under public comment, former recording secretary Paula Mengel asked why the office work load couldn't be divided up between Gibiser and part-timer Herb Woodring.
"That is what we're trying to find out," answered Akins.
New ESRC rep
In other business, resident Tom Amershek was appointed as a West Penn representative to the Eastern Schuylkill Recreation Commission.
On the recommendation of Marlin Zehner of the West Penn Park Commission, the board approved the purchase of $1,800 worth of mulch for West Penn Park, to be used with new playground equipment purchased by the commission.
Zehner also announced that the park's clean-up for the spring will be held on Saturday, March 26, beginning at 8 a.m. The rain date is Saturday, April 8. Volunteers are needed to assist with the clean up and can bring rakes and shovels if available.
Martinez said the township is looking for residents to serve on the board of auditors. There would not be any actual auditing of township funds involved, he explained, as the annual audits are handled by the CPA firm of Patton and Lettich, Pottsville.
"The auditors set the salaries of the supervisors if they work on anything in the township," said Martinez, who noted the auditors would also hopefully run for the office in the next election as well.