SHAMOKIN — At least seven people were left homeless in a fire late Tuesday night that damaged three properties in the 100 block of East Lincoln Street, including the Kallaway Center for the Arts.
Shamokin fire investigator and Patrolman Raymond Siko II said a canine and its handler from the Reading Fire Department inspected the fire scene Wednesday afternoon in hopes of determining a cause.
Siko said the K9 is trained to detect accelerants.
When asked if the fire was suspicious, Siko reserved comment: “We are confident that the fire started in a room on the second floor at 142 E. Lincoln St., but we are holding off on listing the nature of the fire due to our ongoing investigation.”
He said the 11 p.m. two-alarm blaze quickly spread to 138 and 144 E. Lincoln St.
Left homeless were two adults and four children who resided on the second floor of 138 E. Lincoln St., and Michael J. Robinson, 56, who resided in the same building.
Robinson is listed in city records as the owner of 138 and 142 E. Lincoln St.
Siko said someone knocked on the door at 138 E. Lincoln St. to alert the residents about the fire. He said all the occupants were able to escape unharmed.
Robinson, who ran unsuccessfully for city mayor in 2017, was not home at the time of the fire.
Siko said he doesn’t know if anyone lived at 142 E. Lincoln St. or if it is covered by insurance.
The officer said the tenants at 138 E. Lincoln St. are not insured.
He said the Kallaway Center, which is owned by the Northumberland County Council for the Arts, is insured.
The four-story property at 142 E. Lincoln St. sustained heavy fire damage along with smoke and water damage, Siko said. The three-story building at 138 E. Lincoln St. sustained fire damage to the third floor and smoke and water damage to the first and second floors. The three-story Kallaway Center also sustained fire damage to its third floor and smoke and water damage throughout the structure.
Jeanne Shaffer, executive director of the Northumberland County Council for the Arts, commended firefighters for preserving the Kallaway Center for the Arts while battling the blaze.
“My heart goes out to all the firefighters,” she said. “It could have been a lot worse if not for their great efforts in containing the fire.”
Shaffer said there was smoke and soot damage throughout the building. She said the skylight on the roof of the building was heavily damaged.
Women’s art classes, after-school art classes for children and ladies’ teas are held at the center, which was donated by the Kallaway family to the Northumberland County Council for the Arts several years ago.
Shamokin Councilman Scott Roughton, director of public safety, said neither 138 or 142 E. Lincoln St. is registered under the city’s landlord ordinance. He said Robinson has been cited in the past for violating the ordinance.
“We have no idea who the tenants are at 138 and 142 E. Lincoln St. because they aren’t registered as living there,” he said.
Shamokin Assistant Fire Chief Steve Jeffery was among the first personnel to arrive at the scene and immediately reported it as a second-alarm fire to Northumberland County Communications Center.
“Flames were shooting out the second floor at 142 E. Lincoln St. and the fire was spreading already to 138 E. Lincoln St. when I came upon the scene,” Jeffery said.
Siko and Shamokin Fire Chief Bruce Rogers commended city firefighters and mutual aid personnel for preventing the fire from causing more damage.
“We conducted a good, aggressive interior attack and had an excellent response from mutual aid units,” Rogers said.
“The Shamokin Fire Bureau and firefighters from neighboring communities did a phenomenal job in stopping the fire,” added Siko.
Rogers said firefighters conducted multiple searches of the properties to make sure everyone got out safely.
The fire was declared under control at 12:50 a.m. Wednesday. Firefighters remained at the scene until 4 a.m.
Siko and fire chiefs returned to the 100 block of East Lincoln Street later in the morning to continue their probe. A section of the street near the fire was cordoned off to traffic until late Wednesday morning.
Other Shamokin officials assisting at the scene were Shamokin Deputy Fire Chief Ken Pilkus, Battalion Chief Lester Yohe and Code Enforcement Officer Rick Bozza.
In addition to Shamokin firefighters and AREA Services employees, also summoned to assist were fire personnel from Coal Township, Mount Carmel, Atlas and Overlook. Placed on standby were Elysburg Fire Co., Mount Carmel Area Rescue Squad and a ladder truck from Ashland.
SHAMOKIN — Housing Authority of the City of Shamokin Executive Director Ron Miller is serving a three-day suspension without pay after the organization’s grievance committee sided with one of his subordinates relating to alleged workplace mistreatment incidents on the job.
According to board president Dave Kinder, Miller is serving his suspension through Friday. Raspberry Hill project manager Jona Diehl filed a grievance against Miller concerning “harassment and retaliation,” Kinder said.
Diehl said she believes she has been retaliated against after she wrote a letter of support to the board for a maintenance man that Miller had fired in April.
“The board rehired (the maintenance man), and ever since then (Miller) has harassed me. He writes me up for every little thing that is not true,” Diehl said.
Kinder said a three-person grievance subcommittee of the organization’s five-member board unanimously found the grievance to be valid after Miller declined to attend the private hearing because his attorney was not permitted to be there.
“Mr. Miller is expected to return to work on Monday,” Kinder said.
During an interview with The News-Item Wednesday, Miller categorically denied the claims levied against him by Diehl and concluded that the board is wrong for suspending him for “just doing his job.”
“Everyone needs to follow the same policy,” he said. “I have done nothing wrong to warrant the suspension. The suspension isn’t fair. I got suspended for following our policies, procedures and HUD (Housing and Urban Development) regulations”
According to Miller, Diehl told him she doesn’t want him going to the Raspberry Hill Housing Complex and evaluating her performance, which is one of his responsibilities as executive director.
Miller, who has been the executive director at the housing authority for 30 years, said Diehl began working for the authority in 2012.
Miller rebuffed Diehl’s belief that the quarrel between the two began in April.
“(This all) started with a performance evaluation I did in January regarding (Diehl),” he said. “Three months later she brings it back, but she doesn’t want to review it, she says. Policy requires a review with your supervisor.”
Miller went on to say, “She was not following her job description and not adhering to her job description. Occupancy, maintenance work orders and property inspections are some of her duties she wasn’t properly fulfilling.”
Diehl said Miller began nitpicking her inspections after she wrote the letter of support in April.
“All of a sudden this inspection thing came out, but if you ask any tenant who has been there the last seven years, they will tell you I’ve done the inspections,” she said.
Miller also claims Diehl was never certified as a manager, which is mandatory for her to hold her position.
Diehl did not dispute that she is not certified.
“There is a description of having to do a property manager certification within 12 months of hire, but he never came to me and said I needed to go do it,” she said. “When I was hired he told me I might have to do civil service and that was it. As my supervisor, he should have come and said you need to (get certified), and he never did.”
Miller said he has contacted the Office of Inspector General, Department of Investigations, over issues going on that the housing authority board has ignored.
He also said he filed a complaint with Shamokin police over an allegation of missing funds from the Raspberry Hill complex.
“I requested a field audit and filed a report for missing funds with Shamokin police,” Miller said.
“His latest accusation is that I’m stealing money from our laundry machines,” Diehl said. “From what I understand, he hired a private investigator to do a handwriting comparison on the inspections, which came back as matched and showed nothing was wrong.”
She concluded, “In seven years, he has never looked at an inspection book, or a work order, and now all of a sudden he will report this and report that (about me). Everyone knows it is all retaliation.”
KULPMONT — The upcoming demolition of some main street properties and a focus on further cleaning up the community highlighted Wednesday’s borough council meeting.
Properties at 923, 929 and 931 Chestnut St. will be demolished within the next two weeks, to the delight of council and some local residents.
Councilman Robert Chesney had a strong message concerning the matter.
“These buildings within the borough that are in poor show are going to have to come down, but the landlords, many of whom are from out of town, they need to understand they are going to be held responsible. Kulpmont Borough will not be footing the bill,” Chesney said.
Borough resident James Cipriani spoke up at the meeting about how he and his wife are dealing with issues when it comes to neighbors and a lack of upkeep at their respective homes.
“Initially, we welcomed our new neighbor, but, over time, there has been garbage piling up, and it’s been very frustrating,” Cipriani said. “People need to take better care of their properties.
“I would like to commend this current borough council for their efforts,” he continued. “I appreciate you for taking on the outstanding issues Kulpmont has had over the year.”
Borough President Walter Lutz said the borough is aware of the particular issues noted.
“This individual has received numerous fines over time. The next step is the magistrate,” Lutz said. “We appreciate your patience, but, unfortunately, these matters often take up a great deal of time.”
There was a brief discussion regarding the Kulpmont Borough Police, prompted by Mayor Nicholas Bozza.
“I’ve heard rumblings here and there locally, complaining about our police and how they are doing,” Bozza said. “To anyone offering up complaints, I challenge you to sit with myself at the station and see how busy our police are and their constant hard work and efforts.
“Our Kulpmont police officers are going a very good job at what they do,” the mayor continued.
Council awarded a street paving contract totalling $14,350 from Dabulis Masonry Construction LLC, of Coal Township, to pave the sidewalk in front of the borough building near the garage.
Council continued dialogue on other topics, including the location of Bozza’s proposed pollination garden. Veterans Memorial Field was discussed as a possibility.
The board also discussed the possibility of lowering local speed limits uniformly down to 25 mph within the borough. The topic will be further discussed at fire, emergency management and police committee meetings.
A motion was approved authorizing Bozza to clean up a sign near Lamplight Acres at no cost to the city.
SUNBURY — With salary and benefits combined, a corrections officer can earn between $44,000 and $58,000 during the first year on the job at the Northumberland County Jail, according to information provided as part of a discussion about staff turnover during Wednesday’s prison board meeting.
Commissioner Sam Schiccatano believes turnover of corrections officers is not just a problem Northumberland County is experiencing.
He tasked Warden Bruce Kovach with finding out how much surrounding counties pay their corrections officers.
“I have heard other counties’ salaries may be higher, but our benefits are much better,” Schiccatano said.
Following the meeting, he said the base salary for an officer is $27,300. With a health insurance plan for a single person, salary and benefits would total $43,321.
If the officer selects a family health insurance, salary and benefits would total $57,559.
Kovach said, the prison has 83 full-time staff members. Of those, 73 are corrections officers. The prison also has five part-time officers. Those individuals do not wish to be full-time.
Kovach said five new officers will start on Monday.
He said a consultant has recommended the prison employ 79 full-time officers. The county is still waiting to receive state recommendations.
“I don’t anticipate ever being at 100%, with turnovers,” Kovach said. “We are striving to achieve 100%.”
He noted that turnover of corrections officers is common and said he recently learned New York state is recruiting officers in Virginia.
Sheriff Robert Wolfe said the high turnover rate is nothing new for the county, as the same problem was experienced at the old prison.
“This is not unique to our new jail,” Wolfe said.
Kovach also noted that the jail has brought on quality employees.
“We are bringing in some good people,” he said. “We are growing, maturing. We are getting a good core group of people in. I am happy with our new recruits ... our senior members.”
Kovach said the jail now houses 276 inmates. It has a capacity of 284.
Of the county’s current inmate population, 14 are from Schuylkill County, four from Union County and three from Snyder.
In June, Kovach said, the county netted $40,000 in revenue by housing inmates from other counties. He said there are various reasons why county transfer inmates to other counties.
“If they have to separate (inmates) or have conflict issues, they like to transfer inmates,” he said.