The City of Lackawanna recently paid $324,000 in back pay to a firefighter injured nearly 20 years ago, it was revealed Monday night.
City Attorney Norman A. Le-Blanc Jr. told the City Council the payment was the result of a recent ruling by the state's highest court and covers back pay for 11 years. The city might have to continue paying the firefighter, Richard Bett, full pay, currently nearly $29,000, for another seven years.
The back pay is the result of an Oct. 11 decision by the state Court of Appeals. The amount of back pay previously was unknown.
Bett, now 63, suffered a back injury while fighting a fire on April 4, 1971. He was found to have a permanent injury, LeBlanc said.
In 1979 new legislation allowed municipalities to require such people to perform "light duty" if able, and, based on medical evaluations, Bett was ordered to do so. But he failed to report for work as a fire inspector and was fired.
He took the issue to court and the Court of Appeals unanimously upheld lower court rulings that the city failed to provide evidence that Bett was able to perform light duty.
LeBlanc acknowledged he is frustrated by the decision because the city felt it was not required to present evidence unless Bett disputed the claim. "He never claimed he couldn't perform light duty," LeBlanc said.
He said the decision apparently means that any municipality wishing to put a firefighter or police officer on light duty must first go through some type of hearing procedure and then the determination of the hearing officer would be subject to challenge in court.
LeBlanc said the brief written decision by the court didn't explain the decision fully "and, in my opinion, ignored cases that have been around for decades."
With no further appeals possible -- the U.S. Supreme Court only hears cases involving constitutional issues -- the city will have to continue to pay Bett his full salary until he retires, which might not be until he is 70, LeBlanc said.
Bett could not be reached to comment Monday.
In another matter during an informal work session of the Council, City Clerk Gerald S. DePasquale said the city is owed nearly $27,000 in uncollected license fees from coin-operated machines from the last two years.
Enforcement is lacking because the Police Department is shorthanded because of layoffs, DePasquale said. He plans to meet with the police chief and director of ighter $324,000
public safety to try to come up with a plan whereby offenders would receive summonses.
The fees range from $5 for a soda vending machine to $75 for a video game or jukebox.
There are 435 coin-operated machines in the city and license fees for 1989 and 1990 total nearly $42,000. To date the city has only collected a little more than $15,000 and 1991 license fees will be due soon.
One large vendor owes more than $6,000, and offenders include David Radich, the son of Mayor Thomas E. Radich, who owes $5 on a soda machine at a fitness center he operates, DePasquale said.
Lack of enforcement also has resulted in the financially strapped city not collecting on many unpaid parking tickets, 3rd Ward Councilman Leonard A. Woyshner pointed out.