Family looks for help with cleanup of damaged home

November 01, 2005|by DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - A Chambersburg family Monday night asked the borough council for help in fixing damage to their home caused when a municipal water line broke and flooded their basement in August.

Josh and Kathryn Manges of 171 Mill Road said the water line broke Aug. 12 and flooded the basement with several feet of water, leaving them without a functioning furnace. Estimates they have received for cleaning and repairing their home, and the money they have already spent, come to about $9,500.

"It was the borough's faulty line that put us out of heat," said Josh Manges, who was accompanied by his wife and three children, ages 4, 3 and 10 months. The children were still in their Halloween trick-or-treat costumes.


Their youngest child, Naomi, was adopted earlier this year in Liberia, they said.

The problem for the Mangeses, however, is that state law protects municipalities from most private lawsuits for such occurrences, except in certain circumstances, according to Thomas Finucane, the borough's attorney. Those circumstances require that a dangerous condition exist and that the municipality have been notified of its existence at least six months earlier, he said.

"What's our legal position and what's our moral responsibility?" asked Council President William McLaughlin.

Finucane said those are two different questions and, since the break occurred without warning, the borough has no legal liability. He said the borough has in the past made contributions to residents for damaged property through a "good neighbor policy" and had offered the Manges family $2,000 in assistance.

"In this particular case, the amounts are much higher," Finucane said.

Property owners can get flood insurance, but the Mangeses did not, Finucane said. McLaughlin said most property owners have no reason to get flood insurance unless they live in a flood plain.

"I think if anyone of us had this problem, we'd be pretty upset," Councilman Glenn Manns said. "I think we need to step up to the plate."

The council did not authorize payment for the damage, but did agree that borough personnel should examine the home and see what can be done.

"Let's use our talent pool," Councilwoman Elaine Swartz suggested.

Councilman George Pentz said the repairs of the furnace could be less than the $5,000 estimate the couple got from one contractor. He said fixing it might only require replacing the blower assembly.

"Let's get somebody out there who knows what they're talking about," McLaughlin said.

If the repairs still come to more than the borough's offer, he said the council can look at the issue again.

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