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Resident pleads for public voteto rehire officers

Published March 14. 2013 05:02PM

Several Coaldale residents spoke on a variety of matters at a contentious public council meeting Tuesday.

Following another heated discussion involving the February 2012 furlough of the town's three full-time police officers to save money, resident Nick Ritzko, verging on tears, pleaded with council to put to public vote the question of whether the borough should increase its property tax levy to raise enough revenue to rehire the officers and the two borough workers who were also furloughed.

Ritzko asked council to "bring back one worker at a time, one police officer at a time."

Councilman John J. Sherbin Sr. asked the audience if they would be willing to pay more taxes; hands shot up.

Solicitor Michael Greek said a referendum would not be necessary to increase the tax rate, but if council decided to do that anyway, it would have to word the referendum carefully, and be prepared to follow through on the results.

Councilman Joe Hnat said council has already discussed a tax increase referendum. He said it would require 8 mills of tax revenue to bring the officers and workers back.

"We just thought that was entirely too high," he said.

Ritzko's plea followed a lengthy presentation by resident Francis Hutta, who said Officer Keith Krapf had been improperly promoted to sergeant in 2007 when council failed to follow borough code and Civil Service Commission rules, among other issues. Hutta also said the police department's evidence locker had been "compromised," and that an officer had given alcohol to minors.

Borough Fire Chief Richard Marek, who was on council when Krapf was promoted, said the borough was not required to follow Civil Service Commission requirements at the time because it had fewer than three full-time officers.

In other matters, council heard from Ruthanne and Ron Kehl, of 134 W. Ridge St. The couple's home is attached to 132 W. Ridge, which has been vacant for three years. The owner, Lisa O'Brien, had been evicted in April, 2010, by the borough because of a long-standing water leak that damaged the house. O'Brien left behind a house full of furniture, toys, clothing, food and other household items. The water leak continued, and the roof was damaged by a storm, allowing more water to enter.

The home has since filled with mold, which is encroaching into the Kehl's house. The house has since been condemned.

On Tuesday, the Kehl's, who have for years regularly attended council meetings to ask what could be done, again made an emotional plea for council to do something.

"That place is going to kill me and my husband," Ruthanne Kehl said. Ron Kehl told council he was once again hospitalized, and feared the mold was making him sicker.

Councilman Joe Hnat said the borough does not have the money to either fix or demolish the home.

"It's not that we don't want to do anything," he said.

Greek said O'Brien, who lives in neighboring Lansford, has been served with notice to clean up the house. He said he's petitioned to allow the borough to fix the mess, but that takes money. Greek told the Kehl's they can file a civil suit against O'Brien.

"It's going to fall down, and then there will be a great big issue," Ruthanne said.

The Kehl's noted that two other homes, neither of which they said were as bad as the one at 132 W. Ridge, have been torn down in the meantime.

Frustrated, The Kehl's left the meeting.

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