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May 13, 2014

Ellwood purges police chief position

NEW CASTLE — The Ellwood City police no longer have a chief.

Borough council following a special meeting and executive session last week voted 5-2 to eliminate the position.

Mark Romutis, a resident of Conway, had been in the job for the past 31⁄2 years.

 Councilman John Todorich, who voted for the move, commented yesterday that the move is for good.

“I don’t think we’ll ever fill that position,” he said.

Todorich said Mayor Anthony Court has assumed supervision duties over the police department.

He deferred all other comments to solicitor Ed Leymarie. An attempt to reach Leymarie yesterday was unsuccessful.

The measure passed 5 to 2 with members Connie MacDonald and Marilyn Mancini casting no votes.

MacDonald declined comment about why he voted against the elimination, saying, “We are concerned about legal issues, so I’d prefer not to do that.”

In addition to Todorich, Council president Brad Ovial and members David DeCaria, Michelle Lamenza and Ralph Chiapetta voted for eliminating the job.

Court said yesterday he believes “it was a cost-cutting move.”

Romutis’ salary this year was $72,000 plus benefits, and the decision results in a total savings of about $100,000, Court said.

Court said he didn’t have a say-so in the matter, “but I was hoping this didn’t come to fruition.”

 He said that he and police Lt. David Kingston have been given the added responsibilities of the department, which includes nine full-time and three part-time officers.

Neither he nor Kingston received increase in salary, “nor do I want one,” Court said, commenting, “The added responsibilities have been with me since day one since I’ve been the mayor here. I’ve always been a hands-on mayor and the responsibilities have just been rerouted.”

The police department has been proactive in drug enforcement, and he is determined to persevere as usual, he said.

While Romutis may have been taken by surprise by the decision, “I think it’s something council had been thinking about doing for awhile,” said Court, who is in his fifth year and second term as mayor.

“All municipalities face financial issues and I think this is a way they think they can save some money,” he said. But the move is leaving the police department a little short-handed.

Full-time officer Chris Hardy recently retired and his position has not been filled.

“ It makes things harder and more difficult,” Court said. “I’m hoping that maybe with some of the funds they’re saving (by eliminating the chief) that they’ll at least hire another full-time police officer.”

“We’ve accomplished a lot and we’re going to continue on that path,” he continued. “It’s not going to change in any facets of law enforcement in our borough. The energy and enthusiasm are still there.”

 He said he is sorry to see Romutis leave.

“I had a great working relationship with him, he was very professional, and that’s what we’re all about here,” he said.

(Email: dwachter @ncnewsonline.com)

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