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Pennsylvania county pays almost $5,000 to fight reimbursement of a $60 pair of pants

A Pennsylvania county is paying close to $5,000 in costs to fight reimbursement to a probation officer's $60 pants. (Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images)

A Lycoming County, Pennsylvania, officer ruined his pants — worth approximately $60 — while he was chasing down an offender he supervises in December 2016. He submitted a request for the county to reimburse him for the cost of the pants, since they were destroyed during the course of performing his work duties.

Little did he know that his simple request would touch off a lengthy court battle that has cost taxpayers in Lycoming County $4,285 (and counting).

How did the guy ruin his pants?

According to Penn Live, probation officer Luke Ellison went to the Williamsport home of an offender on Dec. 28, 2016. because she had failed to report as required.

When the offender, Amanda Confer, saw him at the door, she fled on foot. Ellison chased after her, and during the chase he ripped his pants.

Then what happened?

Ellison submitted a reimbursement request for the value of his pants, arguing that since the pants were destroyed while performing his work duties, the county should pay him for them.

County controller Krista Rogers, however, refused Ellison’s request on the grounds that only operational expenses were eligible for reimbursement. Since the county did not provide work pants to probation officers, she reasoned that they were not “operational expenses” and thus could not be reimbursed.

Ellison appealed Rogers' determination, and a judge ordered the county to reimburse Ellison from the county’s offender supervision fund. The judge also ordered Confer to reimburse the county for the expense.

Rogers then directed her solicitor to fight the judge’s decision, and the case has been tied up in appeals ever since. The total cost to the taxpayers for the solicitor’s time is currently at $4,285, with more appeals and hearings to come, which means it is extremely likely that the county will end up paying over $5,000 to fight reimbursement of a pair of pants.

To add insult to injury, when Rogers finally reimbursed Ellison for the pants, she reimbursed them as a “fringe benefit” and withheld taxes on the $60. According to Penn Live, Rogers defended this decision by saying, “I’m just trying to do the right thing to protect the county.”

What’s next?

It’s not clear how long the county plans to continue the appeal process. As of Nov. 13, the county was still filing appellate motions, indicating that the fight might continue for some time yet.

Other county employees have expressed chagrin at Rogers’ decision to fight this small reimbursement tooth and nail, including County Commissioner Jack McKernan, who told Penn Live that “it doesn’t seem like the solution to an easy fix.”

However, since Rogers is an elected official, her decision in this regard cannot be overturned — except at the ballot box.

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