Penn Hills lays off 57 municipal employees - Penn Hills Progress

Penn Hills lays off 57 municipal employees

Thursday, March 26, 2020 | 1:48 PM

Penn Hills announced Wednesday it would lay off 57 full- and part-time employees – including school crossing guards, library staff and senior center workers – in response to pressures experienced during the coronavirus pandemic.

“Having to place dedicated personnel onto layoff status was not a good day for Penn Hills,” said municipal manager Scott Andrejchak. “Unfortunately, right now, there are not good solutions to many of the problems the virus introduced. My hope is that this will all pass soon and we can call the employees back to work.”

Layoffs become effective March 28 but the employees can file for unemployment immediately, Andrejchak said. The laid-off employees will be paid for the two-week period ending March 27, Andrejchak said.

Full-time employees will receive medical benefits through June 30.

Andrejchak said he does not know when the layoff status would be lifted.

The Penn Hills library has been closed since March 14. The municipality’s senior center has been closed since March 16 but continues its meal delivery program.

Essential staff — police, fire, EMS, public works and water pollution control — have continued to work through the pandemic. The finance department is currently operating as a “skeleton crew.” The nonessential departments, like code enforcement, parks and recreation, library services, senior services, some administrative positions and the planning department have been shut down — with the exception of managers of all departments being tapped to work in the emergency operations center.

Tina Zins, Penn Hills Library Director, said she will continue to work in order to staff the emergency operations center. Her staff of around 30 has been laid off.

“We’re trying to offer as much virtual content as possible,” Zins said. She said some of those services include updating the website’s eResources such as eBooks, streamable movies and online genealogy services. Zins said she’s even hosted Facebook Live events for virtual storytimes for younger children.

She said libraries are following state government orders to remain closed, therefore she could not predict when the library would reopen.

Mayor Pauline Calabrese signed an additional emergency declaration for Penn Hills on Tuesday, extending the original declaration by 30 days. The original, signed March 16, lasted seven days.

Emergency declarations allow communities to make purchases of equipment quickly instead of going through a lengthy purchasing process. It also allows Penn Hills to seek reimbursement from both the federal and state government.

“We are actually in the process of preparing the applications now, which are due on April 13th. We are incurring costs related to the emergency and we are seeking reimbursement for them,” Calabrese said.

She could not provide hard numbers but said the municipality will seek reimbursement for the cost of staffing its emergency operations center, which has been manned 24/7 since March 16.

“We are also seeking reimbursement for the cost to purchase personal protective gear such as gloves and masks for our police department,” she said, adding there is no guarantee the municipality will receive grants.

The manager said it is too soon to say how large of a financial impact covid-19 will have on the municipality’s budget.

“I expect to see an impact potentially in wage taxes and real estate taxes, but it’s premature to say what that is. But we’re closely monitoring our revenue as this plays out,” Andrejchak said.

The moves to lay off staff and extend the municipality’s emergency declaration came the day Congress reached an agreement for a $2.2 trillion virus relief package, which includes $260 billion in unemployment insurance, among other aid to many Americans. The bill was unanimously approved by the Senate on Wednesday. It is unclear when the House will vote. President Trump has said he will sign the bill.

Calabrese said Penn Hills Council plans on having its regularly scheduled voting meeting April 20. The meeting could potentially be held remotely or have it live-streamed via YouTube with call-in capabilities, she said.