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Jeannette to spend $26K on study

| Wednesday, June 12, 2013, 11:36 p.m.

Jeannette council Wednesday agreed to spend $26,000 in public funds to conduct another study on how the city can extricate itself from the financial mess it has been dealing with for the past several years.

Council voted to hire Civic Research Alliance of Mechanicsburg, Dauphin County, to conduct a staffing study to determine how large a work force the city can afford. The money will come from a state grant.

“Nothing's free,” said councilwoman Kathie Tanyer.

Tanyer was the only member to oppose the study. Mayor Robert Carter and councilmen Bill Bedont, Mark Clark and Dr. Mark Levander voted for it.

Tanyer said two years ago, council received a study from Delta Development on what the city needed to do to avoid being declared a financially distressed city and taken over by the state.

Council at the time rejected Delta's recommendations, and the municipality continued to flounder financially and had trouble paying its bills.

“We already have Delta Development's study,” she said. “I don't believe we should abandon it.”

Among Delta Development's recommendations were reducing the size of the 12-member police force to 8 and eliminating the three-member paid fire department, which requires a public referendum before the department could be transformed into an all-volunteer unit.

Tanyer said she favors a referendum on the fire department and reducing the size of the police force, something her colleagues are reluctant to do.

“We already know what we need to do,” she said.

The city began the year $500,000 in the red. It owed $350,000 to the police pension fund for 2012. Councilman Bill Bedont said Jeannette recently paid $100,000 toward the debt and will have to come up with $546,000 by the end of the year for the 2013 contribution.

The city must repay a $350,000 loan it took out last year and owes more than $235,000 in damages to businessman Frank Trigona, who won a lawsuit against the city.

Jeannette is trying to sell some of its assets and debt, and will refinance a bond issue to generate additional cash.

The police and paid firefighters agreed to 5 percent pay cuts. City administrators slashed their own pay by 10 percent.

Police also agreed to rotating layoffs, but the plan didn't work because officers made up their lost pay through overtime.

Council could consider permanently laying off four patrolmen and supplementing the department with part=time officers, but the contract between the police and city does not permit hiring of part-timers if the size of the department drops below 12 men.

Carter said he is negotiating with the Fraternal Order of Police about hiring part-time policemen. Part-timers are less expensive because they do not receive health care benefits and Jeannette does not have to contribute toward their pensions.

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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