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Property owner wants Jeannette to pay up

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By Richard Gazarik
Friday, July 26, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
 

One of Jeannette's biggest tax scofflaws wants his money, and he wants it now, according to a filing Wednesday in Westmoreland County Court.

The attorney for Frank Trigona filed legal action seeking to force the city to pay him nearly $267,000 in damages and legal fees he won in a lawsuit against Jeannette over his rental properties.

The cash-strapped city can't afford to pay Trigona or his lawyer, Robert Lightcap of Latrobe. Officials are trying to borrow money just to meet current and future financial obligations.

“The city is not flush with cash,” said city attorney Scott Avolio.

Trigona said it's time for Jeannette to pay the money it owes him.

“When you lose, you should pay,” he said. “It's no plainer than that.”

Jeannette is trying to prevent having to seek state protection under Act 47, the Pennsylvania Distressed Municipalities Act, but the pressure from Trigona inches the city another step closer toward the financial precipice, Avolio said.

Trigona concedes that his action could push the city into state oversight.

“Something needs to push the city to get some guts to make the hard decisions,” he said. Trigona owes the city and county more than $316,000 in back taxes, making him the third largest debtor behind the former Monsour Medical Center and Jeannette Glass plant.

In addition to paying Trigona, Jeannette struggled to meet its police pension obligation, although officials say the final payment for 2012 will be made to the state by late August. But council faces another payment of more than $500,000 at the end of the year.

In addition to the city, Trigona names Mayor Robert Carter, newly appointed city treasurer Mike Nestico and council members Mark Clark, Bill Bedont, Kathie Tanyer and Dr. Mark Levander as defendants in the action.

In January, a judge ruled that Jeannette owed Trigona more than $235,000 in damages and fees for denying him occupancy permits for rental properties that he owns because Trigona owed taxes to the city. A county judge and an appeals court ruled that the city's action was illegal, and Trigona sought damages for lost rental income. Lightcap is seeking additional damages because the city has failed to satisfy the judgment. With interest on the debt, the amount is nearly $267,000, according to court documents.

According to the filing, Trigona now is owed more than $108,000 while Lightcap's fees exceed $158,000.

Lightcap filed a writ of mandamus, which allows a creditor to compel the city to pay the judgment.

Avolio said council has been trying to find the funds to pay Trigona and Lightcap, adding that Jeannette is actually a spectator in a battle between Trigona and First National Bank, which he owes money from past loans.

Trigona and the bank have been arguing over how much Trigona owes. In May, the bank garnished the lawsuit award, which prevents Trigona from receiving any money from the city.

“The city has done nothing to deny it owes that amount of money they're asking for,” Avolio said. “The suit will probably provide a road map to the city on how to resolve this case. This will have to be dealt with sooner or later.”

Jeannette is trying to negotiate a loan ranging from $900,000 to $1.5 million to get through the next two years and avoid Act 47.

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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