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2013 Jeannette budget approved, could be revised this month

| Thursday, Jan. 3, 2013, 9:18 p.m.

For Jeannette City Council members, 2012 did not end as they had hoped.

The year began with high hopes that the city would end 2012 with a balanced budget. Due to several unplanned expenses, the city expected to end the year with a deficit of about $250,000.

Council finance chair Bill Bedont said the final figure would be available at some point this week, once the last revenues and expenditures of 2012 were calculated.

The city's final bill of the year, a $414,000 payment to the city police pension fund, will bear the brunt of the deficit. The city will pay as much of that amount as it is able and the remainder will begin to accrue interest until the debt is paid off.

Bedont said that while any deficit will trigger changes to the 2013 spending plan, council hasn't decided what changes will take place. Bedont said that, like a person's household budget, when there is a deficit there are two options to solve the problem — increase revenue or make spending cuts.

The 2013 $5,157,950 budget keeps the tax rate set at 32.62 mills. Each mill generates $64,971 for the city.

“2012 did not go as planned,” said Bedont. “We brought in more revenue than we planned, but we spent more than we planned. We got hit with a workman's comp pre-pay, we had a couple of judgments this year, the transfer from Centax to Berkheimer hurt us a little.

“We are going into 2013 with all bills paid. The police pension is what we have left. We will make some adjustments, but we're not sure where we'll be. I feel we've come a long way this year.

“I was really hoping to come up even this year, but we took a couple of hits.”

The city has yet to finalize contracts with its four unions, but Mayor Robert Carter said that three of the four were close to being signed. Carter also said the union members understood the city's position that employees accept a wage freeze.

“We've had a positive response from three of the four unions. If one comes back without a wage freeze, we'll have to jump that bridge when we get there,” said Carter.

“We will have some belt-tightening, more so than this year. It will be a rough year, but a good year.”

The mayor said one area the city needs to reign-in spending is in employee overtime hours.

“Overtime is one of the biggest problems we have,” said Carter. “Any spending on overtime, they'll have to get pre-authorization. That should be significant savings.”

The approved 2013 budget called for no layoffs and Carter said he wouldn't know until this beginning of this month if that would change.

The city is still in Pre-Act 47 status, which means its financial situation is still being monitored by the state. Bedont and Carter said the city hopes to pull out of that oversight.

“Bankruptcy is the furthest thing from our minds,” said Councilman Mark Clark. “We're fighting right now. No one's talking bankruptcy. We're talking about pulling out of it.

“I've been in this same situation before and we pulled out of it.”

Carter said the biggest advantage the city has going into a new year is that council is fully aware of the financial issues it faces. He said that wasn't always the case in previous years.

“We know what we're up against,” said Carter.

Councilman Mark Levander said council worked well during this budget process and praised Bedont's work in putting the spending plan together.

“I don't know that any other council has worked together as well as we have done and with transparency,” said Levander. “Putting yourself out there is a huge risk for scrutiny, but it's paid off.”

Council approved the 2013 budget in a 4-0 vote last week. Councilman Jim Benson was absent from the meeting. Council expects Benson to formally submit a resignation letter that will be approved this month. At that time, council will once again search for a candidate to fulfill the remainder of the term left open when former councilman Ron Dinsmore resigned in 2011.

That term expires at the end of this year.

Kristie Linden is an editor for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at klinden@tribweb.com or 724-838-5154.

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