Mount Carmel forced to pay unemployment for retired chief's part-time job layoff
MOUNT CARMEL - The state says Mount Carmel can't get back $10,640 it paid in unemployment compensation to a retired police chief after he was laid off from a job at a private firm.
Brian Shurock, who was employed for 19.5 years as chief and for a short time as acting director of the borough-managed Lower Anthracite Transportation System (LATS), retired in 2012, then got a job with King Coal Tours, Kulpmont.
When he was laid off after four months with that firm, his unemployment compensation fell to the borough, as per state law.
Sara J. Goulet, press secretary with the state Department of Labor and Industry (L&I), said Mount Carmel would be responsible in a case such as Shurock's where the borough was determined to be the only employer during his "base year" for compensation. The base year is the first four of the last five completed calendar quarters immediately preceding an application for benefits, she said.
So when Shurock applied for benefits on Nov. 4, 2012, King Coal was his employer for part of the most recently completed quarter, July through September, but the previous four quarters, it was the borough.
Borough President Tony Matulewicz said he can't believe that's how the law reads.
"I'm not blaming Brian Shurock. I blame the law for being ridiculous," he said. "I think it unfairly burdens municipalities."
LATS job ended abruptly
Not only has the borough had to pay nine months of Shurock's unemployment compensation- and may have to continue paying into next year - the compensation is being calculated based on his police pension.
Shurock, who was making $54,912 when he retired last year, is receiving $2,288.56 a month in pension benefits from the borough. From that, L&I determine he's eligible for approximately $310 a week in unemployment benefits.
In May of last year, borough council accepted Shurock's letter to vest his pension effective May 31, 2012.
He was then named acting transportation director for LATS effective June 4, 2012, at $12 an hour.
On the afternoon of June 19, 2012, Shurock handed borough manager Edward T. Cuff III a letter of resignation and walked out the door, according to a letter dated Dec. 10, 2012, from the borough to L&I.
The brief letter did not list a reason for his resignation, and Cuff said he still doesn't know why Shurock walked off the job.
In the letter, Shurock said, "I expect all monies due me including 11.6 days wages, health care reimbursement and unused vacation and sick time paid in full in a timely manner. Thank you for what could have been a good opportunity to better the transit system and expand its capabilities."
The resignation was not because of a "lack of work," Cuff said in another letter to the state.
No 'relief from charges'
Less than a month after Shurock's resignation from LATS, he started working for King Coal Tours, which was contracted with the borough for public transit service for 28 years. The two entities ended their relationship in January over what the borough has called discrepancies in King Coal billing, and the council has since asked currently Police Chief Todd Owens to investigate.
Shurock worked for King Coal until November, at which time he was laid off. He applied for unemployment benefits Nov. 4, 2012, according to paperwork from L&I to the borough.
The borough appealed, submitting a "relief from charges." Two hearings were held, one in January and one in February.
According to Cuff, the borough never received official notice from L&I that a determination was reached, but nonetheless started receiving bills for Shurock's unemployment benefits starting in February. They continued into July.
Borough solicitor William Cole advised council not to pay until it got an official determination. Cuff contacted L&I in July for further information and was told the relief of charges would not be considered since the borough is a "reimbursable employer." He also received verbal confirmation the borough was responsible for the compensation.
Cole's advice then was to pay, and council approved payment Aug. 15.
Being a "reimbursable employer" means Mount Carmel does not contribute to the statewide unemployment compensation tax, instead reimbursing that state pot of money after the fact as needed.
Municipalities must choose to be reimbursable or non-reimbursable, the latter known as "contributory." Most political subdivisions are reimbursable, Goulet said.
Pay until next January?
Cuff said it is not known how much longer the borough needs to pay Shurock's unemployment compensation since it still doesn't have an official final determination.
Goulet said L&I can't comment on specific individuals, but, under regular benefits, a claimant has a maximum of 26 weeks of unemployment compensation. Under federal emergency benefits, claimants may also be available for an additional 37 weeks, which would take the total to 63.
If Shurock was granted the total number of weeks, his compensation would extend into the third week of January.
Council members unanimously approved an amendment to the 2013 budget to make the past-due payment. Funds were transferred from the line item for wages of full-time police officers to the line item for unemployment fees.
Matulewicz said council will likely be discussing the issue again Sept. 19, including whether the money could be transferred from any other budget areas.
"I don't think it's fair to come from the police budget. Chief Owens has been doing great," he said.
Matulewicz said he fears the same situation arising with other employees who leave on their own volition, find employment elsewhere and get laid off after a brief period of time. At the least, it makes budgeting difficult, not to mention the cost and fairness.
Shurock's telephone number is not listed, and he was unable to be reached for this report.