Jeannette revises budget to cover $500,000 in red ink
Jeannette has revised its 2013 budget because it started the new year $500,000 in the red.
Councilman Bill Bedont predicted the city's budget this year would be balanced until Jeannette failed to meet a $350,000 pension contribution for its police officers and was forced to pay a court-ordered award of more than $235,000 in damages and legal fees to businessman Frank Trigona.
“We had to make it up, $500,000 on a $5 million budget,” Bedont said. “By Dec. 31, we should be back to square one.”
The budget has been increased from $5 million to $5.5 million. The city hopes to raise the additional revenue by refinancing a $2.9 million bond issue and selling a firetruck and two street sweepers. The money from the refinancing and asset sales could generate enough money to enable the city to make the payments.
Bedont made it clear that council will not levy a special tax to pay Trigona because taxes cannot be increased at this time of the year.
Council was able to cut costs by laying off five employees, instituting rolling layoffs for police officers and forcing city administrators to take 10 percent pay cuts.
Bedont admitted the revised budget was accomplished in executive sessions rather than at public hearings because he said they involved personnel matters, which is one of the exceptions that public meeting laws permit.
The cuts were necessary, he said, to avoid Jeannette from being declared a distressed city under Act 47, the Pennsylvania Municipal Recovery Act.
“I know it hurt everybody across the board,” he said.
He complained that comments by residents in local coffee shops and in the social media indicate Jeannette would be better off under Act 47. Bedont said council would lose any power it has over its future if the state appoints an overseer to run the city.
“Everybody wants the state to come in and take over. Act 47 comes with a stigma,” he said. “Under Act 47, tax rules go out the door. They can raise taxes as they see fit. The state has carte blanche.”
Council came under criticism from several residents for ignoring recommendations from a state consultant two years ago that council now is trying to implement as part of a five-year plan to halt the city's financial downfall.
Former city Clerk Ron Dinsmore said the city won't save any money by rotating layoffs among police officers because the city has to pay pension costs, health care and unemployment insurance.
“What you're doing now may get you to the end of the year. What do you do next year? What's your five-year plan?” he asked.
Dominic Masciantonio said the city lost valuable time by ignoring the earlier recommendations.
“We seem to be catching up. We never seem to get ahead. You wouldn't be having these problems today if you heeded the recommendations two years ago. Let's get going,” he said.
Richard Gazarik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-830-6292 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.