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March 1, 2013

Cambria workers get limit on gifts

EBENSBURG — The Cambria County commissioners have adopted an Internal Financial Assets Fraud Policy – a big name for a rule that puts a dollar limit on personal gifts officials can accept.

Effective immediately, the commissioners and any of the elected row officers cannot personally accept any gifts with a value of more than $100.

“This codifies what is acceptable in terms of gifts,” President Commissioner Douglas Lengenfelder said Thursday when the policy was adopted.

While there have been no problems with pricey gifts to the commissioners and other row officers, officials said, the policy sets what Lengenfelder says is a reasonable cap.

It is a better approach than altogether banning gifts which would include fruit baskets and boxes of candy at Christmastime, the commissioners said.

The savings to the county for implementing and enforcing the gifts policy is $2,500 annually, a savings that will be passed on by the company carrying Cambria County’s Errors and Omissions insurance for officials.

State ethics forms, which county officeholders and all elected officials must complete and turn into the state Ethics Commission, spell out a statewide standard that all gifts of $250 must be claimed on the annual filings, Commissioner Thomas Chernisky said.

When questioned about the need for the policy, Lengenfelder said this policy would come in handy should someone want to give the county an expensive wine goblet or similar keepsake.

Lengenfelder recently returned from an economic development trip to Argentina.

While the gift may not be rejected, it would be accepted on behalf of the county and placed in a prominent place for all of the residents to enjoy, he said.

Christmas gifts coming from vendors to county offices are a common occurrence and at today’s prices can exceed that $100 threshold, officials noted. But making those gifts widely available is a likely answer.

County Controller Ed Cernic said he already uses the all-inclusive policy in his office.

“When something comes, we just set it out for everyone to enjoy,” he said.

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