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Recycling program gets Jeannette in more trouble

| Wednesday, May 8, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

The City of Jeannette faces another big bill it can't afford to pay, thanks to its dysfunctional recycling program.

The city may have to repay part of a $235,000 state grant from the Department of Environmental Protection for purchasing recycling equipment and constructing a processing center that “is barely being used,” a department spokesman said.

John Poister said state officials last week discovered the city is not using a baler, compactor, truck or a building that were paid for by the grant. The baler is used for bundling newspapers, and the compactor crushes cans.

“They wouldn't have to pay it all back,” he said. “It would have to be prorated. They said, ‘We want to sell those,' but because they're grant-funded, you have to repay the grant.”

The city is trying to raise cash to pay last year's $414,000 contribution to the police pension fund.

Jeannette officials haven't recovered another $65,000 in state funds from a contractor hired to build a recreation center. That money may have to be returned to the state.

In addition, the city does not have the money to pay more than $235,000 in damages and legal fees to a local businessman who won a lawsuit against the city.

Because of Jeannette's serious financial problems, the state Department of Community and Economic Development is advising city officials how to prevent being declared a financially distressed municipality, subject to state oversight.

“There's no ultimatum being presented here,” Poister said, “but when you accept a grant, you accept the conditions that go with the grant.”

City attorney Scott Avolio said Jeannette “has been working with the DEP regarding the (recycling) program.”

He said council will have to assess what economic impact the failure to utilize the equipment would have on finances and how the city could comply with the grant requirements.

Poister said if the equipment is sold, the city would have to return 90 percent of the proceeds to the DEP.

On Wednesday, council will consider hiring a private company to take over garbage and recycling collections, said city clerk Mike Minyon Jr.

The city inquired whether a private firm would be able to use the processing center built for recycling. Poister said any deal would be subject to state approval, and the company would have to pay rent to use the center.

“No final decisions were made at the meeting, which mainly discussed options,” Poister said. “They just couldn't take over the building. They would have to meet the conditions of the grant. For Jeannette, that could be a deal-breaker.”

If council decides Wednesday to hire a private collection company, members will have to negotiate with Teamsters Local 30, which represents six city sanitation department employees. Under their contract, Jeannette cannot hire a third party without the consent of the union.

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

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