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Jeannette won't meet obligation to police pension fund

| Thursday, Oct. 31, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

The city of Jeannette still hasn't paid its mandatory contribution to the police pension fund for 2012 and will not be able to pay this year's contribution because of its tenuous financial situation, city clerk Mike Minyon said.

Jeannette owes the state $160,000 of the $410,000 that was due in December, he said. Council had hoped to make the final payment in August. The 2013 contribution is $547,000, which the city will not be able to pay by the end of the year. The state imposes a penalty if a municipality can't meet its contribution.

Jeannette's police pension fund has $9.1 million in assets and $14.5 million in liabilities, according to the Pennsylvania Public Employees Retirement Commission, which rates the pension fund as “moderately distressed.”

Jeannette's pension fund problems are not uncommon among the state's third-class cities and small boroughs, which are hard-pressed to make the payments because of declining tax revenue.

The city's financial problems surfaced against a backdrop of pre-election politics as Mayor Robert Carter announced Tuesday that he is authorizing police overtime because of a surge in crime this month, including several shootings, a robbery and a home invasion.

Officers are seeking Mariell McCowan, 23, and Taylor Foster, 20, on charges of robbing a woman Sunday. Joseph Good, 28, was arrested Saturday on a charge of attempted homicide. Both incidents are related to drug trafficking, police said.

Carter is running a write-in campaign for re-election after losing a bid for the Democratic nomination in the primary to Richard Jacobelli. There is no Republican candidate on the ballot.

On Wednesday, Jacobelli accused Carter of frightening residents before the general election because Jacobelli has made the cost of the police department a campaign issue. He said the city faces tough decisions on funding the police force and accused Carter of playing politics to drum up votes on Tuesday.

“It's most definitely a political ploy,” Jacobelli said.

“I don't do politics,” Carter said. “This has been a very busy month. I don't want people to think there's a (crime) epidemic.”

Police Chief Brad Shepler is on vacation and was unavailable for comment.

Carter said he was authorizing overtime because only two police officers are on duty per shift.

“It's not overtime that will solve these problems,” Jacobelli said. “It's a police presence. The problem is there is no police presence.”

Because of the city's chronic financial problems and possible layoffs, police officers accepted a pay cut this year, reducing the 12-man force to eight. City council rehired several part-time officers in an effort to reduce overtime.

City officials tried this year to institute rolling layoffs, with officers on the job for two weeks, then off for two weeks. But the schedules weren't monitored, and overtime negated any potential savings.

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

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