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Jeannette to restore funding for library

| Monday, Dec. 3, 2012, 12:02 a.m.

Jeannette council will resume the city's contribution to its public library next year after suspending payments in September because of the community's precarious financial situation.

Councilman Bill Bedont had planned to restore $5,000 in cuts this year to next year's $15,000 allotment, but Mayor Robert Carter recommended Bedont hold off.

“Let's put it in at $15,000. It could be less,” Carter said at this week's council meeting.

A city ordinance requires Jeannette to contribute 0.24 of a mill to fund the library. A mill generates $64,971 in tax revenue. Based on that formula, the library should receive nearly $16,000 in 2013.

Librarian Hope Sehring said that even with the $15,000, “it won't take us out of the red.”

If it were not for the support of city residents, the library would be in serious financial trouble, she said.

“The people of Jeannette have been kind to us,” Sehring said on Wednesday. “I'm OK right now. The $20,000 would have been better. They just cheated us out of $5,000. That's the news. That's money dedicated to the library, not debts they incurred.”

Jeannette hopes to end the year with a balanced budget and projects the same for 2013, Bedont said.

The city has made contract offers to its fire, public works and clerical employees that, if ratified, will impose a wage freeze on all employees in the first year, except for police officers.

The city is still negotiating with the Fraternal Order of Police, which represents the city's police force. Bedont said officers are due a 1 percent longevity increase based on their years of service. The police department budget for 2013 is $1.1 million.

“By far, our biggest expenditure,” Bedont said of the police force. “That tells you how much of a chunk the police department eats up.”

Police Chief Brad Shepler will earn more than $80,000 this year. Combined salaries for the department's sergeants are nearly $214,000. More than $279,000 is paid to corporals, and more than $311,000 goes to patrol officers.

In addition to overtime costs, estimated at $50,000 to $100,000, is $60,000 for holiday pay, which officers receive in lump sums in January and June.

“That's something that needs to be kept under control,” Bedont said of overtime.

The city pays for health care benefits and contributes to the officers' pension fund. Annual pension costs for police, firefighters and non-uniformed workers amount to more than $671,000.

Jeannette also uses part-time officers, whose salaries are budgeted at $36,500.

The paid fire department is another major expenditure for the city.

Jeannette has three full-time, professional firefighters and relies on on-call firefighters who are paid when they respond to a fire.

Councilman Mark Levander proposed changes to the pay system. He wants the city to pay only on-call firefighters who stay overnight at the fire station, not all firefighters who respond to a fire.

Jeannette has struggled for several years to pay its bills while controlling costs in an effort to avoid being declared a distressed city and operating under state supervision.

Bedont has presented a detailed budget that he said he worked on for weeks. He's preparing a five-year plan for the city's finances.

“At this point, it is balanced. I've stared at this thing for weeks on end,” he said. “I'm glad it's over.”

Richard Gazarik is a staff writerfor Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-830-6292or rgazarik@tribweb.com.

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