Thursday, July 10, 2014

Melone returns to help with Pittston Area finances

December 17. 2013 11:56PM

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YATESVILLE – Albert Melone’s absence from Pittston Area was short lived.

Pittston Area’s longtime budget guru returned Tuesday night after the board urged his firm’s return at its reorganization meeting earlier this month.

Al Melone, often the face of the Pittston Area School District budget, submitted a letter to the board in September stating his firm will not seek renewal of its contract for the 2014-2015 fiscal year. He hasn’t been at board meetings since then. Earlier this month, the board unanimously voted to ask Melone to fill out the remainder of his contract, which expires in June.

He obliged, but board member Charles Sciandra took issue with the return. Sciandra said the board voted to end Melone’s contract in September and questioned the legality of having him continue on a contract that had been voided.

“He resigned the contract in September, and at that point the contract is null and void,” Sciandra said. “And he wasn’t here to work with us in September, October and November.”

At the meeting, Sciandra made a motion to appoint the J.R. Aliciene Agency of Jenkins Township as the district’s business consultant, but the board voted to table that motion because the district was again using Melone.

Sciandara said the board has interviewed four full-time business managers and one firm, Aliciene, and he said Aliciene brought the most to the table. Sciandra said Aliciene was $20,000 below Melone in cost and could have saved the district $300,000 by implementing changes in the business office.

Solicitor Joe Saporito said bringing Melone back was within the board’s rights. He said the position is a professional service and does not have to be bid out or an RFP (request for proposals) does not have to be issued.

“The Albert P. Melone Co. responded in writing accepting the unanimously approved proposal of the district and their contract was no longer rescinded, it was resurrected and allowed to live through its original term of June 30,” Saporito said.

After the meeting, Melone explained his reason for leaving.

“We took on two additional districts and the efficient use of the resources, at that time, were to redeploy and go from there,” Melone said.

Former board member Tony Rostock of Yatesville asked the board about the legal costs in trying to recoup money Pittston Area paid into the Northeast Pennsylvania School District Health Trust before it left. He also asked if there any money owed to the trust.

In a January ruling, a panel of five judges from the state Commonwealth Court overturned a December 2011 ruling by former Luzerne County Judge Lewis Wetzel favoring Pittston Area and Dallas school districts. The state Supreme Court last month refused to hear the case.

Pittston Area and Dallas school districts withdrew from the trust at the end of June 2007, after complaining about the trust’s large surplus — which topped $20 million at one point and was, they contended, $18.3 million when they pulled out of the consortium. The districts argued the high surplus was proof the trust was charging more than it was paying out, and left in search of cheaper alternatives. They repeatedly asked for an accounting of the surplus and insisted they were entitled to their share of it

“There is no money owed yet,” Saporito said. “The health consortium has made a counterclaim and the counterclaim is in excess of $200,000 and they’re looking for interest and costs.”

But he said a determination hasn’t been made yet. The districts have the option to try to take the case to the U.S. Supreme Court, and he admitted success was unlikely.

Rostock asked if the Supreme Court doesn’t take the case, where will the district get the money owed to the trust.

“Either the district has the money or there has to be a tax increase to pay for the order,” Saporito said.

Pittston Area has been paying 45 percent of the nearly $800,000 total cost of the suit so far.

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