Discussion scheduled on policy governing police complaints in Peters
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A debate over changes to the policy governing citizens' complaints about Peters police is expected to be discussed during a special public workshop at 7 p.m. Sept. 10.
Although updates to the policy were on Monday's council meeting agenda for action, council members deferred a decision until they could discuss several thorny issues, including an appeal process for those who have complaints about police conduct.
The issue was raised several months ago, when some residents questioned the judgment of several township police officers, including two who were accused of illegally deer hunting on the grounds of a local cemetery and another officer who was outside his jurisdiction when he allegedly drew his weapon on a pair of licensed hunters who were legally fox hunting in North Strabane.
It remains unclear why the officer was answering a call in North Strabane, which employs its own police force. The controversy spawned a federal civil rights lawsuit from one of the hunters, Steven Stiegel of Bethel Park, who felt he was unfairly treated and threatened without cause. The hunters and several residents asked the township to develop a citizen review board or similar vehicle to address complaints.
At the time, council directed staff to update the citizen complaint policy, and the changes that were to be considered Monday included an appeals process for residents to the township manager if they are unsatisfied with the findings of the police chief and a notification to council of such appeals.
Councilman Frank Arcuri said he had additional questions, including whether township manager Michael Silvestri would conduct his own investigation or rely on data gathered by Chief Harry Fruecht. If Mr. Silvestri relied on the chief's findings, Mr. Arcuri wondered how Mr. Silvestri's findings would differ from Chief Fruecht's.
"I think it would have to be on case-to-case basis," responded Mr. Silvestri, who said he could seek additional information or the help of a consultant if necessary.
Although council members said they had conflicting viewpoints about the policy changes, Mr. Silvestri said he thought it was important to establish an appeals process for residents because police officers accused of wrongdoing already have the right to appeal to the township manager.
Council decided to ask the Peters Township school board whether the school district would be interested in pursuing joint tax assessment challenges against individual homeowners.
The issue was triggered by recent tax assessment appeals by homeowners in the Hidden Brook housing development, in which 23 properties were lowered in value by an average of 38 percent.
When homeowners appeal their assessments, the county tax assessment board uses consistency in neighborhoods and surrounding areas to determine value -- but if the township and school district were to challenge assessments, market value and recent home sale prices could be factored into the decision.
"If we start winning all those, that will put a stop to all these appeals," Councilman James Berquist said.
The school board, which meets Monday, will be asked whether it wants to participate in an immediate joint appeal of the 23 Hidden Brook properties, which would cost the township and district a total of $3,500, and whether the district would support the more broad request to begin challenging assessments, starting with those in 2013.
The assessment losses affect the district more than the township. With a real estate tax rate of 100.3 mills, the school district will collect an estimated $32.2 million this year -- or 65 percent of its total $50.2 million in revenue. The township's 13 mill rate will generate $4.2 million, 28 percent of its total $14.8 million budget for this year.
• Council scheduled a public hearing about changes to the ordinance governing crematories in light industrial areas for 7:30 p.m. Oct. 1. The proposed ordinance includes air emission performance standards and setbacks and was developed after a public uproar last year over a proposed crematorium along Route 19.
• Awarded a $31,000 contract to Liokareas Construction of Bethel Park to replace the roof over the garage at the township's fire station No. 1.
All of the upcoming hearings and workshops will be held in council chambers, 610 East McMurray Road.
First Published August 16, 2012 5:23 am