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Pogwist reappointed to water authority

Published February 10. 2011 05:00PM

Lansford Borough council on Wednesday reappointed Richard Pogwist to a 4-year term on the Lansford-Coaldale Joint Water Authority board.

Pogwist, who is the authority's treasurer, was among eight applicants for the post. The new term ends on Dec. 31, 2015.

Council, with no discussion, voted 6-1 to name Pogwist to the office.

Council members Danielle Smith, who nominated Pogwist, Mary Kruczek, who supported her motion, Adam Webber, Lenny Kovach, Rose Mary Cannon and Andrew Snyder voted in favor of appointing Pogwist.

Councilman Tommy Vadyak, who for years has crusaded against the salary and benefit package authority officers gave themselves in 2006, cast the sole vote against the appointment.

In addition to Pogwist, the applicants were former Councilman Robert S. Hackash; Robert benek; Niz Kamal; Joseph Butrie; Joseph M. Mitzen; Donna Valent and Michael J. Rego.

Water authority officers, including board chairman Toby Krajcirik, attended the public meeting, but did not speak.

The water authority salary and benefit package has been a source of contention in both boroughs. Recently, two large water companies, Aqua Pennsylvania, based in the Philadelphia area, and Pennsylvania American Water, based in Mechanicsburg, each have asked councils of both boroughs to meet with them to discuss buying the authority.

Both councils say they are interested in meeting with the companies, but have yet to schedule a day and time.

Water Authority officers are appointed by the borough councils, two from Coaldale and three from Lansford. Vadyak has said boroughs set their compensation at $25 a month, or $300 a year. According to 2009 water authority records, the board chairman earns $15,000 a year; the vice chairman/superintendent $47,000; the treasurer $8,000; the secretary $8,000 and the assistant secretary/treasurer $6,800. In addition, the chairman receives a $2,250 annual stipend; the vice chairman, treasurer, secretary and assistant secretary-treasurer each receive an annual $2,150 stipend.

Hourly employee wages range from $13.50 to $16.21 an hour. All employees, including the officers, are eligible for medical benefits.

Krajcirik has said the officers' salaries were increased in 2006 after they began assuming more responsibilities in the wake of the arrest of a longtime employee who admitted in federal court to embezzling about $80,000 over five years. Her $38,000 a year job was eliminated and the wages used to offset some of the officers' pay increases, he said.

Vadyak has been taking aim for years at the salaries and benefits. The state Local Government Commission responded to his complaint on Nov. 12, 2008, saying that it could offer only background information on some avenues of recourse. However, the agency said municipal authorities may award their members compensation as officers, according to the Pennsylvania Municipal Authorities Act. They may also vote for their own appointment to an officer position and also vote to set their own salaries as an officer.

However, if they created the office in order to receive compensation, it could be a violation of the state Ethics Act, LGC said.

LGC also said that authority board members may not receive health insurance, although their employees may. Krajcirik, in a December, 2009 interview described authority officers as "salaried employees."

LGC went on to say that "if the board authorized health insurance for themselves as employees, they could argue that this is permitted by the PMAA. However, (a previous case argument and ruling) appears to contain logic that would permit the (State Ethics Commission) and a court to examine the creation of positions primarily to give benefits or compensation to board members."

LGC also said that if authority officers authorized the compensation for hours they didn't actually work, that also could be a violation of the Ethics Act "as well as a possible crime."

Vadyak has said that at least three of the five officers hold down full-time jobs elsewhere and one works two jobs, so they could not possibly work 40 hours a week for the water authority.

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