COMMODORE — Under agreements with the Indiana County District Attorney’s office, two of the four men accused of selling salvage material owned by Green Township and pocketing the proceeds have resigned from their positions with the township.
James Crawford Sr., the chairman of the board of supervisors, tendered his resignation Tuesday, only hours before the supervisors held their monthly business meeting.
Crawford, fellow supervisor Allen Shirley, and road crew workers Dale Laney and Gary Putt were charged by state police with sharing in almost $14,200 that they collected by cashing in the remnants of a steel bridge, an old truck and various other pieces of metal at an area scrap dealer.
At a standing-room-only meeting where the only empty chair was Crawford’s seat at the table, supervisors Kenneth Ferringer and Allen Shirley appointed Gilbert “Gib” Roof, of Commodore, to replace him. Roof, who lost to Crawford by four votes in the Republican primary election in May 2011, assumed his seat midway through the meeting and took part in completing township business such as approving bills and signing checks.
Ferringer said Crawford’s notice barely met a deadline agreed upon by the suspects, their attorneys and county prosecutors.
“He sent a letter … requesting two weeks of vacation pay and sick time, and said he would retire on Friday, Sept. 6,” Ferringer said. “I said I would not accept that.”
When Crawford had not turned in an acceptable notice by Tuesday afternoon, Ferringer said, he contacted the township’s solicitor, Wayne Kablack, who in turn contacted Crawford’s attorney to ask for a letter before the deadline.
“This evening he slid a letter under the door, saying he was resigning as of 5 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 10,” Ferringer said.
Under the agreement with prosecutors, Shirley is expected to tender his resignation before the supervisors’ next meeting on Oct. 8.
District Attorney Patrick Dougherty said the supervisors’ resignations were designed to take effect at different times so that their replacements could be appointed by the two remaining on the board. If both had simultaneously resigned, the task of appointing their replacements would have fallen to the judges of Indiana County Common Pleas Court.
Immediately after voting on Crawford’s resignation, Ferringer and Shirley accepted Laney’s letter of resignation. Laney wrote that he would finish his work Sept. 19 and asked the township to deduct his entitled vacation pay from the amount of restitution, $2,837.86, that he has agreed to pay.
In his letter, Laney said he agreed to not apply for unemployment benefits.
Ferringer said Putt has not yet resigned from his job.
After appointing Roof, Shirley offered a motion to name Ferringer as the new chairman of the board.
Roof, who will serve until the November 2015 municipal election, said he would act only as an administrator rather than become a “working supervisor,” the term used for supervisors who commonly take full-time employment as road crew workers for the township.
To fill Crawford’s position on the road crew and to replace Putt, the supervisors hired Jeremy Detwiler and Ricky Montgomery and promoted Dave Wilshire from part-time to full-time status.
Some residents at the meeting praised Ferringer and the road crew for what they said was a marked improvement in road maintenance and other service in the months since the charges were filed in the salvage theft case.
“It’s been a headache at times,” Ferringer said.
Ferringer “has been getting everything organized on his own time,” Roof said. “He’s been busting his hump.”
At a scheduled court appearance Aug. 5, the suspects waived their rights to preliminary hearings and agreed to face adjudication in the county court. Each is charged with theft by unlawful taking and theft by failure to make required disposition of funds received.
Ferringer said he understood that the men had filed applications for the accelerated rehabilitative disposition (ARD) program. In other business, the supervisors heard a request by Randy Degenkolb, the chairman of the board of directors of LIFT (Local Initiatives For Tomorrow Inc.), to approve part of Dixonville Commons for tax breaks and other business development incentives under the Keystone Opportunity Zone program.
Dixonville Commons, the 190,000-square-foot former home of PolyVision, has been divided up as a multitenant structure for lease to several small businesses.
With exemptions from paying local real estate taxes through the KOZ plan, Degenkolb said, LIFT could offer reduced rate leases and better compete to attract new employers to the Commons.
Under KOZ, the property would be excused from paying between $500 and $600 of real estate tax to the township.
Degenkolb said the Purchase Line School District board on Monday approved the KOZ designation, and told the supervisors that the request also will go to the Indiana County board of commissioners on Sept. 25. KOZ benefits would be extended only if all three taxing bodies give approval.
The KOZ program expires in 10 years.
Led by Mike Zurenko, a township auditor, many in the audience at the meeting protested the purported value of granting KOZ status.
Profit-making companies don’t depend on tax breaks, the residents said, and they protested that area home and business owners would have to pay more tax to make up the money the township would lose.
Degenkolb said property tax savings alone is not the greatest lure for new businesses. Reductions in state business taxes offer bigger breaks and give KOZ properties a competitive edge over other locations for attracting new and expanding companies, he said.
Companies that benefit from KOZ tax breaks also are required to increase employment or to improve the value of the property in order to receive the tax abatements.
The supervisors took no action on Degenkolb’s request and said they would contact him before Sept. 25 to talk about the KOZ application.