Pubdate: Fri, 11 Mar 2016
Source: Citizens' Voice, The (Wilkes-Barre, PA)
Copyright: 2016 The Citizens' Voice
Author: Jacob Seibel
Bookmark: (Paraphernalia)


WILKES-BARRE - Starting today, adults found to be in possession of 
drug paraphernalia in the city might catch a break from the 
Wilkes-Barre City Police Department.

City council at its regular meeting Thursday voted 5-0 to pass the 
second and final reading of a paraphernalia ordinance downgrading 
possession from a misdemeanor to a summary offense at the discretion 
of the arresting officer. Factors that police will consider include 
the criminal background of an offender and whether the person is 
going to be facing more serious charges.

City officials said they decided to reduce the offense to put money 
into city coffers that will be collected through city-issued 
citations and savings from no longer prosecuting misdemeanor 
offenses. Fines for misdemeanor and felony crimes go largely to the 
state; whereas fines for a summary citation go to the city.

The maximum penalty for a summary conviction is a $300 fine. 
Defaulting on the payment could land an offender in Luzerne County 
Correctional Facility for up to 90 days.

According to state uniform crime reports, Wilkes-Barre police in 2015 
made 160 arrests for possession of drug paraphernalia, which includes 
items such as marijuana pipes or syringes used to inject illegal 
drugs. Those arrests are listed in the section "Drug Possession - 
Other" in the crime reports, which includes paraphernalia and various 
uncategorized narcotics. While the report only cites 160 arrests, 
WilkesBarre police Chief Marcella Lendacky said there were actually 
about 300 paraphernalia charges total filed in 2015, including the 
ones resulting from marijuana arrests.

In other business, council passed the first of two readings for an 
ordinance that city fire department officials say would give the fire 
department recourse to recoup costs from insurance companies that for 
years have not made payouts for resources used when fire crews 
respond to emergencies.

Most fire and automobile insurance policies have clauses that provide 
payouts to fire companies for responding to a house fire or for 
providing services at the scene of a motor vehicle crash, said 
Wilkes-Barre Deputy Fire Chief Alan Klapat.

The city had put an ordinance in place in 1997 that allows the fire 
department to bill insurance companies to recoup some costs incurred 
when fire crews respond to and provide services at emergency scenes.

This did nothing to recoup those cost, though. Klapat said poor, 
in-house billing practices laid out by the current ordinance do not 
give the department the authority needed to take an active role in 
recovery of costs when the insurance provider doesn't pay up.

Council at its regular meeting on March 24 will take its final vote 
on whether to repeal the nearly two-decade old billing ordinance and 
replace it with one that has more clout in collecting payouts from 
insurance companies.

If the new ordinance passes, Klapat said, the fire department plans 
to use third-party billing company PA Fire Recovery Service LLC, 
based in Lehigh County, to bill the insurance companies and seek 
recovery of unpaid costs.

As payment, PA Fire Recovery Service would receive 15 percent of the 
payout that the insurance company makes to the fire department, 
according to Klapat. If PA Fire Recovery Service has to make two or 
more attempts to recover costs, it would receive a 20 percent share 
of the payout.

The billing company does not collect any payment if it can't get the 
insurance company to make a payout to the fire company for a 
particular incident, he said. He added that the billing company won't 
have the ability to retroactively recoup payments that are more than 
a few months old.

Additionally, Klapat said, the city will not seek payouts from 
uninsured people in the event of fires or motor vehicle crashes, only 
insurance companies.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom