East Cocalico’s road crew workers to form union

By on August 7, 2019

It was a letter as had never before been seen by officials in East Cocalico Township.

“We, the Highway Dept. of East Cocalico Twp. have met and unanimously decided that we would like to form a union,” it read. “We have heard too many negative comments made from outside sources about the future path of the Township and we feel for the best interest of our employment and our families we need to take action. We would like to start a collaboration with the board of supervisors on this action.”
It was signed by all three members of the township’s highway department: Daniel Tasco, Troy Young, and Brandon Sensenig.

“This put me a step backwards,” said supervisor Douglas Mackley after the letter was read at the township’s Aug. 1 meeting. “I’ve lived here since ‘72 and no one has ever requested this before. But I understand it.”

Mackley, a 24-year veteran of the township board, said the letter was a result of two years of controversy in the township, controversy he laid on the doorstep of Jeffrey Mitchell, the Republican-endorsed candidate vying to replace Mackley at the next election.

Speaking on behalf of himself only and not the board and without elaborating Mackley said, “Over the last two years the endorsed Republican candidate, Mr. Jeffrey Mitchell, has caused a lot of controversy in the township. He’s done it to the police department. He’s done it to the fire service. He’s done it to the pool, trying to throw people under the bus.”

In regards to the road crew workers’ request to unionize, Mackley said, “I see this as a reflection on what he has been saying to them, stopping them on the road, and asking them questions and making suggestions.” He said Mitchell’s comments to the workers has unnerved them. “These guys need protection. They’re scared and I don’t blame them at all.”

Ralph Buckles, a write-in candidate running against Mitchell, asked about such a move’s impact on taxes. No one had an answer.

Without naming names, road crewman Dan Tasco said upcoming changes on the board as well as concern about the 2020 budget “has us deeply concerned.”

“We have kids,” Tasco said. “We have families. We have financial responsibilities. This is the sole reason we’ve come to this decision. I understand your concerns about taxes. I get it. I have to pay them too. But I plan on retiring from here. I’d like to have a long 40 years of smooth sailing, happy to come to work and sense of security that I don’t have to fear for my job.”

Neither accepting or denying any blame, Mitchell asked supervisor chairman Alan Fry, “was it last year that the supervisors voted to reduce the road crew by one person?” Told it was, he next asked, if the road crew were given pay raises this year. Told they had, he asked how much. No one claimed to know.
“All that being said, it’s good,” Mitchell said. “I understand that it was done to bring them up to county standards and where they should be. I totally agree with that, but to say that this is happening because of possible future changes is a bit of a stretch. Two of these board members will be here for several more years and the majority rules. I think this road crew needs to be kept in place. To say anything else is just ridiculous.”

Buckles said he hopes the township can get over the “angst” currently being experienced and heal and work together “without rolling buses over people.”

The supervisors approved a motion acknowledging the receipt of the letter and the workers’ rights to unionize.

After the meeting all three crewmen declined to respond to a reporter’s request to elaborate on their action. Mitchell also refused to speak on the record.

In other business, the township voted to appoint Penny C. Pollick of the Harrisburg law firm of McNees, Wallace and Nurick as interim township manager.

A former manager in South Hanover Township in Dauphin County, Pollick will work 40 hours in non-meeting weeks and 45 hours in meeting weeks. The township will pay the law firm $60 per hour for her services plus some mileage allotments. However, Russell asked the board to add on a few hours for special projects such as the Stoney Pointe Park playground being planned.

“I do think there’d be a need to have the interim manager still be involved in the project going forth,” Russell said. “That is not in her hours as proposed right now, but they’re entering a critical step and need the manager to serve as a technical advisor with that association.”

The board did not make a determination.

Pollick attended the meeting and was introduced to the board and others in attendance. She said she looks forward to taking up her duties.

“You have an awesome team here and I look forward to working with you gentlemen,” she said.
Elsewhere in the agenda, Russell updated the board on the 10,000 square-foot playground being planned at the Stoney Point development. He said the homeowners group has formed a non-profit organization, the Stoney Pointe Community Build Assoc., and appointed officers and a board of directors. Currently, he said, they are forming the “three most critical committees,” public relations, fund raising, and volunteer recruiting. This last will be most challenging, he said, and the group is seeking someone to lead it.

“It’s heading in the right direction,” Russell said of the project.

The board was informed that Denver Borough is agreeable to a five year extension of the police coverage East Cocalico provides for the borough and its estimated 3,900 citizens. Under the new agreement being proposed, Denver’s cost would go up 2.5% per year over the five years. Police Chief Darrick Keppley said Denver borough council is happy with the police coverage and said that contracting services from any other municipality would be more costly.

“They are happy with the fact that they can forecast their expenses for the next five years,” Keppley said.
The current three-year contract period expires Dec. 31, 2020. The proposed five-year contract will start on Jan. 1, 2021 and run through the end of 2025. Denver’s budget for policing in 2019 is $556,365.97 which includes $11,878.97 to help pay for the School Resource Officer. This amounts, tax-wise, to about $142.66 per person in the borough.

The cost for coverage in 2020 is expected to be $566,266, although there was some discussion about whether the numbers included funding for the SRO position.

A formal agreement to proceed with the five year extension has still to be worked out by Denver’s borough council as they look at final numbers.

Following East Cocalico’s meeting, Denver Borough Manager Mike Hession told a reporter, “The last number council saw was a two-and-a-half percent increase moving forward each year. We sent back information to East Cocalico that we were on board with that breakdown. We’re waiting to hear back from them. There was some discussion at their meeting about the 2020 number and that issue needs to be straightened out.”

Council would like to go ahead with the five year deal, Hession said, “but we’ll have to wait to see what that 2020 number looks like. That will impact everything moving forward.”

The supervisors also agreed to a request to form a Fire Department Working Group to discuss issues regarding fire service. The group would consist of the fire chiefs from Reamstown, Smokestown and Stevens, as well as the township manager and one supervisor. Romao “RC” Carrasco agreed to fill that slot.

One issue the new group can discuss, said Keppley, was updating their internet connections in their fire vehicles, possibly by going with iPads rather than the jetpacks currently in use. The iPads, he said, are “easily removable and they can take pictures.” He figures they could save $150 per month over what is currently being spent. Cost for the iPads could run between $5,000 and $6,000, he said.
“It’s a work in progress but I think we’ll be able to save some money,” Keppley said.

Larry Alexander is a freelance columnist for The Ephrata Review. He is an award-winning journalist and New York Times best-selling author. He can be contacted at larry2851@yahoo.com.

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