The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

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June 11, 2013

Loss of firefighters’ workers comp stuns boro

ASHVILLE — Borough Council members seem to be feeling pinched after losing private insurance coverage for Ashville Volunteer Fire Company’s workers compensation claims. The borough now must apply for state coverage, which will add extra $3,000 to the premium.

“We’ve had too many claims, and they sent us notification that they’re dropping us,” said Lou DeAngelis, council president, who joined the meeting via Skype – a first at the one-room municipal building.

The new council code book allows telecommunications for voting, but still requires a quorum of physically present members for an official meeting.

The insurance issue brought notable pause to the borough officials’ discussion.

In previous years, the borough’s premiums were $15,000. Joining the state’s program will bump that up to $18,000. DeAngelis said he wasn’t sure where the borough would get the extra cash without shorting some other program or project.

“It is what it is,” said council secretary Mary Ann Riggleman. “We have to carry the workmen’s comp for that fire company to operate, so we have to pay the bill.”

It’s a company that serves not only Ashville Borough, but also the surrounding communities, including the borough of Chest Springs and Gallitzin, Dean, Clearfield and Allegheny townships.

Riggleman said the six municipalities have always voluntarily pitched in to help pay for the firefighters’ workers compensation, which is why the Ashville service extends to those areas. DeAngelis said, however, that it ultimately falls on Ashville.

“This workman’s comp insurance isn’t any other responsibility but Ashville Borough’s,” he said.

If the premium stalls out, the trucks will be stuck in the garage, legally prevented from responding.

“I pray we don’t have to go that route,” said Riggleman. “That is the worst case scenario.”

The  meeting was also joined by Cambria County Commissioner Tom Chernisky, who offered not only his services but those of John Dubnansky, grant facilitator for Cambria County, and talked up Dubnansky’s skill at hunting down funds for county projects that might otherwise go unrealized.

Grants typically pay only for equipment or other one-time purchases, but DeAngelis said he’ll follow up with Dubnansky.

“It also could maybe help pay for some things for the fire company or the borough,” Riggleman said. “That could free up money that we could (use to pay the insurance), if you want to look at it that way.”

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