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Jeannette council plans to revise budget next month

| Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2013, 9:01 p.m.
Mayor Robert Carter talks to city council's newest member, Kathie Tanyer, as Councilman Mark Levander reads his notes. John Howard | The Jeannette Spirit

Jeannette Council members are well aware of the dire financial situation the city is in, Mayor Robert Carter told residents during this month's meeting.

Carter said council is exploring options ranging from an Act 47 state takeover of the city's finances to Chapter 9 municipal bankruptcy.

“We're thinking about what is the best avenue and approach for citizens and we also don't want to eliminate services. We're talking to our employees — rolling layoffs is part of that discussion with the employees to see how we can move forward,” Carter said.

While discussing the city's well-publicized financial difficulties, Carter expressed frustration that positive events taking place in Jeannette fail to garner the same attention.

“There are good things happening here,” said Carter. “We know we have no money. We have a lot of positives, but no money. It's no surprise that we're broke. We're our own worst enemies. Everyone wants to come up here and beat us up, but no one comes forward with ideas about how to help the city.”

Carter addressed the standing-room only crowd before the residents took turns talking to council about various issues going on in the city —topics ranged from budget issues, to city-mandated garbage bags, to a tax to pay for legal settlements, to parking tickets issued for drivers who parked their cars against traffic. The mayor described the budget as a sinking ship and said, “It's our job to patch up the holes and get this ship sailing again.”

Chuck Highlands, a city resident, asked about the recommendations made for Jeannette by Delta Development Group, the consultants hired to help the city navigate the pre-Act 47 early intervention process.

“I never saw any of those recommendations adhered to in any way,” said Highlands.

Councilman Mark Levander said council couldn't pick and choose to follow only some of the recommendations. Levander said following all of the recommendations would mean losing members of the police and fire departments and various other services.

Resident John Durbiano said he is 100 percent behind the City of Jeannette, but added that “the overarching issue here is that we can't go anywhere without a budget. I'd like to have a better understanding of our actual finances. We need a sense of urgency to move on certain things. We need to make things happen immediately. We can live within our means and be a successful city.”

Finance chairman Bill Bedont agreed that council must have an urgent mindset and said the revised version of the 2013 budget will be voted on at next month's meeting. Bedont said budget meetings will be advertised.

“We're $500,000 behind this year. We need to make difficult decisions. We were not able to pay our MMO (police pension payment) last year and a recent settlement put us in a pretty bad spot. We will be going after back taxes and will be selling underutilized equipment,” Bedont said. “There are numerous ideas being considered. Nothing is off the table.

“Changes need to be made sooner rather than later.”

In addition to owing at least the discounted amount of $350,000 for the police pension payment that was due Dec. 31, 2012, the city must find a way to pay a judgment of nearly $250,000 related to the lawsuit filed by Frank Trigona. Once those items are paid for, the city must find a way to make the 2013 police pension payment —the non-discounted amount due by Dec. 31 is $540,000.

Bedont has said that fixing the budget problems will be a mix of spending cuts and revenue increases.

Aside from potential rolling layoffs, the possibility of eliminating paid call firemen and switching to volunteer firemen and selling underused equipment, the specific options council is considering as it rebuilds its 2013 budget haven't been discussed publicly.

Former councilman John Busato asked if council planned to hold a public budget decision before voting on the revised budget next month. Council members said they would advertise a date for such a meeting soon — no meeting date has been set.

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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