The Herald, Sharon, Pa.

March 26, 2013

Past assumption, sign donation cost city cash

By Tom Davidson
Herald Staff Writer

FARRELL — When you assume, the old saying goes, you make an ass out of you and me. In Farrell, it also comes with a hefty price tag: $102,417.63.

That’s the cost of an assumption made by then-Farrell City Manager Lavon Saternow and Act 47 coordinator Michael Weir about an $81,694 check the city received in 2010 from the state for police pensions.

The check was accompanied by a “vague letter” that Weir said he and Saternow took to mean the city was being reimbursed money Farrell had already paid to Southwest Mercer County Regional Police as part of its annual assessment of about $1 million.

An audit of the police pension books revealed that wasn’t the case, City Manager Michael Ceci told Farrell City Council members Monday. The city was supposed to turn the check over to Southwest’s pension account, he said.

The state Auditor General’s Office advised Ceci that the city owed the cash back, plus interest, which comes to $102,417.63.

The city has the cash to pay the bill, but it will put a strain on the budget, Ceci said.

“We really didn’t know there was anything wrong,” with the move, Councilman Eugene Pacsi said.

Council approved making the payment to the Pennsylvania Municipal Retirement System.

Council OK’d writing another check at the end of an hour-long business meeting – this one for $5,000 – to the Farrell Area School District as a donation for a new LED sign that will be put up for use as a community bulletin board.

The sign, which will cost between $30,000 and $40,000, is being put up to dress up the outside of the school, Farrell School Board member Isaac Fields told council previously.

Council members’ thoughts varied on the amount of the donation. Some, including Councilwoman Kim Doss and Mayor Olive McKeithan, said it should be more than $5,000, while others, including Pacsi and Councilman Robert Burich, said it should be about $3,000.

“We just spent $100,000,” Pacsi said, referencing the pension fund payment.

That money, plus lower cash outlays, add up, he said.

“I realize (that) $5,000, $8,000, $3,000 are peanuts compared to that (the $100,000),” he said.

But it’s cash the city doesn’t really have to spend, he said.