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California elementary students honor veterans

CALIFORNIA – About a dozen former homeless veterans were treated to lunch, blankets and toiletries and honor and respect Friday at the invitation of California Area Elementary School.

“That’s awesome,” said Shawn Roche, upon learning the students had gifts for him and other residents of Crabtree-Kovacicek Veterans House in Washington.

“It comes from parents teaching kids respect, core values,” said Roche, who served in the U.S. Army in the 1980s.

Principal Rachel Nagy said the veterans program is one of the best events at the school each year.

“The kids get so excited, Nagy said. “They do know these folks are in need of our help.”

The first- and second-graders made hand-tied blankets for the veterans to take home with them. The entire school held a toiletries drive, bringing in more than 1,000 items for the veterans, said school volunteer Susan Yadamec-Baumgard.

“We have a saying at our school, #bethekindkid,” Yadamec-Baumgard said. “We are hoping doing these things will help teach our youth just how important a veteran’s sacrifice is.”

Steven Adams, manager of veterans services at the City Mission, said a school celebrating veterans is awesome.

“Kids doing this stuff is real,” Adams said.

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City councilman charged with DUI partners on scholarship with treatment center

A Washington councilman who faces a preliminary hearing later this month for a charge of driving under the influence of alcohol wants to partner with a substance abuse treatment center, where he recently received care, to offer a scholarship.

Matthew Staniszewski announced in a news release that he is partnering with Washington business owner Mark Kennison and DreamLife Recovery in Donegal to offer a $45,000 scholarship for someone who may need inpatient treatment.

“I voluntarily admitted myself into an inpatient program there, and I want to build that bridge with DreamLife and the recovery community in the Washington area,” Staniszewski said in an interview Friday.

He said his “intake” date at DreamLife was Sept. 3, the same day Washington police filed charges in court. He was arrested Aug. 26 after he was found unconscious behind the wheel on East Wheeling Street about 1:13 p.m. His car was blocking traffic, and there were bottles of liquor on the floor, according to court documents.

“Economic status, race, sexual preference, gender, and everything in between, addictive behaviors do not discriminate,” Staniszewski said in the release. “I faced my own unhealthy ‘coping’ behaviors in an attempt to mask my depression, hurt, and anxiety.”

He said he travels to Donegal to continue outpatient treatment because of a shortage of services in the region. He said while he was developing his outpatient care plan, he came across waiting lists for treatment.

Staniszewski said he’s continuing his care with Dr. Gina Marchando, executive director of DreamLife Recovery, a native of Washington County and alumna of Washington & Jefferson College. She said DreamLife is “footing the bill” for the $45,000 scholarship, which will provide multiple levels of care, including medical detox, a residential stay of 28 to 30 days and a transition back into the community, for a total of 45 days.

Washington residents in need of treatment can pick up a scholarship application in many public locations in the city and send them by Dec. 2 to DreamLife at 212 Snyder Road, Donegal, PA, 15628. Staniszewski and Kennison, recent unsuccessful mayoral candidate, will review applications and interview applicants before awarding the scholarship.

“I love our city and want to see it flourish,” Kennison said in the release. “That includes helping those in need without appropriate access to care.”

Staniszewski returned to City Council meetings this month after being in rehab. He said he wants to look for other opportunities to bring recovery services to Washington.

“I sought out the help I needed and continue every day to live a better life to contribute positively to society,” he said in the release. “I understand firsthand and want to reach out to those who are still suffering.”

Staniszewski’s preliminary hearing on the August DUI is scheduled for 10:45 a.m. Nov. 22. It’s his fourth DUI arrest since 2004, two of which happened during his first term on City Council. In 2007, he crashed a vehicle in North Strabane Township with a blood-alcohol content of 0.29%. He was also cited for public drunkenness in February 2018, after becoming aggressive with a restaurant employee in North Strabane Township.

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Man killed in ditch collapse

An Ohio man was killed outside of a North Strabane Township home on Friday after he became trapped when a roughly 10-foot-deep trench in which he was helping to place a sewer line collapsed and buried him.

North Strabane fire Chief Mark Grimm said his department was called to the house on Brehm Road about 1:10 p.m. It was a little before 5 p.m. by the time the man’s remains were recovered.

“It took us nearly three hours from the time we started (digging) to rescue the male that was trapped in the hole,” Grimm said. “The problem with these collapses, obviously, is that you’re 6 to 10 feet down, dirt keeps falling, so it’s tedious and time-consuming ...”

Members of Canonsburg EMS pronounced Richard St. John, 49, of Bellaire, dead. Grimm said St. John’s body was in the care of the Washington County coroner’s office. The cause and manner of his death are pending autopsy, according to the coroner’s report.

St. John didn’t live at the house but was one of several people who were tying the property to a municipal sewer line that had recently been installed in the neighborhood.

He wasn’t doing the work for a contractor or other type of employer, but officials said the Occupational Safety and Health Administration had arrived to investigate.

North Strabane police are investigating the death.

Assisting were Canonsburg Ambulance, firefighters from Canonsburg, North Strabane and Peters Township departments, North Strabane and Peters Departments of Public Works and the Washington County Department of Public Safety.

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No tax increase for Washington County property owners projected in 2020 budget

Washington County property taxes remain the same – 2.43 mills – in the 2020 preliminary budget released late Thursday afternoon.

Although the preliminary general fund budget of $98,224,537 is nearly $2.9 million more than last year’s adopted budget, a series of hearings with department heads is likely to lead to a paring down of funding requests.

“There will be changes between the preliminary and posted budgets,” said county Finance Director Joshua Hatfield. “There always are.”

Budget hearings that began Thursday are to conclude Nov. 13, and certified property assessment figures will become available two days later.

Washington County’s budget preparation is a three-part process that begins with the preliminary document. The second stage, known as the “posted” budget, will likely make its public debut on Nov. 27, when it will be available for inspection in the commissioners’ office on the seventh floor of the Courthouse Square office building.

The spending plan the members of the board of commissioners expect to adopt is scheduled for 10 a.m. Dec. 19 in the first-floor public meeting room, also in Courthouse Square.

Commission Vice Chairman Diana Irey Vaughan, the election day top vote-getter who is in line to become chairman of the board next year as it shifts to Republican control, said after Thursday’s commissioners’ meeting she does not anticipate reopening the budget after Jan. 1.

One area that saw a jump in allocations was Common Pleas Court, up by 17%. Hatfield said this was due to the addition of the seventh judge to the bench. Although Judge Traci McDonald Kemp’s salary and benefits are borne by state taxpayers, the office staff and operating expenses are paid by county taxpayers.

The state Legislature approved the seventh judge due to the burgeoning caseload of Washington County Court and the county’s increased population. McDonald Kemp was elected to a 10-year term Tuesday after her appointment by Gov. Tom Wolf took effect in late August.

The county has a multimillion-dollar surplus that includes $17.6 million from the sale of the Washington County Health Center, which was privatized in 2017. The proceeds are “to be used for future purposes and/or projects,” according to county records.

The county’s last tax increase was enacted in 2009 for 2010 bills, but a simultaneous court case resulted in a countywide property reassessment that took effect in 2017.