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Mayor's race may be pivotal for Jeannette sanitation workers

| Saturday, April 29, 2017, 11:00 p.m.
Curtis Antoniak
Richard Jacobelli

The future of Jeannette's sanitation department could hinge on the primary race for mayor.

Mayor Richard Jacobelli is in favor of outsourcing garbage collection because he believes the department is financially unstable for the future.

“It's not that I want to eliminate six jobs ... but it's also to save future costs for the city,” Jacobelli said. “It is beyond the city because we are still contracting; we're still losing population.”

Curtis Antoniak, the challenger and a soon-to-retired city worker, said he plans to examine the figures first. Antoniak is retiring this week as a truck driver/laborer, a position he has held with the city's public works department since 1985. He has been the union steward for about 14 years.

“If I am elected, I would want to look at the numbers” to make a decision about the department, Antoniak said. “I'm the type of guy, when I vote on something, I want facts.”

Some of those numbers won't come until after the May 16 primary, when Democratic voters will choose between Jacobelli or Antoniak. City council, including Jacobelli, voted in April to seek bids from private haulers to handle trash collection in Jeannette. Responses, including costs for varying levels of service, could be received this summer. A contract with six unionized sanitation workers is set to expire at the end of the year.

In 2016, expenditures for the department were about $962,000 plus legacy costs, such as pensions and health care for retirees and salaries for city workers who perform department-related clerical tasks. The department had its first profitable year in recent history in 2016 after rates were increased. Revenues were about $1.1 million.

In 2015, expenditures were $949,000, not including the same added costs. An increase in delinquent bill collections occurred that year, and revenues totaled $1.02 million.

If re-elected, Jacobelli hopes to focus on improving Jeannette's infrastructure and problems with blight.

His top priority would be to renegotiate contracts with the city's unionized forces in the fire, police and streets departments. Wages, pension payments and employee benefits account for 74 percent of the city's $5.7 million 2017 expenditures. The police contract expired at the end of 2016 and is in arbitration. The contract with Jeannette's paid fire department expires next year.

“We have to roll back some of these things for our contracts,” he said.

Jacobelli is seeking his second term. Jeannette was rife with financial problems at the time of his 2013 election. During his time on council, he said, the city has created accountability by hiring a manager and deputy chief fiscal officer while completing a comprehensive plan that guides Jeannette's future and enacting ordinances to fight blight.

“Once we had all that in place ... now we are able to start to see some movement forward,” he said.

Antoniak has been involved in the community for many years as a baseball coach, and the market his grandparents started has been in business since the 1920s.

“I am running for mayor to give back to the community,” Antoniak said. “I've been blessed to work here.”

If elected, he wants to establish a full-time code and property maintenance officer position. Code enforcement is handled part-time by Ed Howley through Building Inspection Underwriters of Pennsylvania and property maintenance duties fall to fire Chief Vance Phillips.

“Growing up here my whole life, I see what the problem is,” Antoniak said. “We have a lot of good landlords, but we have a lot of landlords who take advantage of less fortunate people. We have to clean the town up, and I think it starts in-house.”

Other projects Antoniak said he hopes to tackle are to attract to Jeannette businesses that exist in towns of a similar size and address speeding motorists along main throughways with the police department.

“I want to be a public servant,” he said.

The mayor's annual salary will increase from $1,200 to $2,400 in 2018.

Renatta Signorini is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 724-837-5374, rsignorini@tribweb.com or via Twitter @byrenatta.

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