Mayor: Monessen $8M in hole
Monessen's mayor said the city is saddled with at least $8 million in long-term debt, yet council last month committed nearly $400,000 in state funds to build an amphitheater that he said may never be used.
Mayor Lou Mavrakis said he won't know the amount the city owes until an audit of 2013 records is completed, and that accounting is not scheduled to begin until later this month.
Councilman Josh Retos, finance director, said Monessen is able to pay its bills or meet its payroll, but the debt requires $400,000 to be earmarked annually to meet liabilities. That's a huge burden on a city with a $4 million budget, he said.
“Every year, you start out $400,000 in debt before you even incur any new debt,” Retos said. “We live day to day. I can't predict what's going to happen in the next four years.”
The city undertook a $5 million bond issue in 2010, then borrowed $2.5 million. This year, officials borrowed $500,000 to see the city through the first several months of 2014.
Monessen, a third-class city, faces the same problems as other small cities across Pennsylvania — declining population and tax revenue. The city's population has dwindled to 7,600, dropping 12 percent from 2000-10, according to Census figures. Its per capita income is $21,000 and median household income is $30,000, compared to a state average of $50,000.
Mavrakis blamed his predecessor, Mary Jo Smith, and former city manager, John Harhai for “foolish spending.”
During Smith's tenure, the city borrowed $5 million in 2010 to make improvements, including lights and concession stands in city parks. At least $1 million earmarked to demolish dilapidated and abandoned housing was never spent, Retos said. Instead, Smith wanted the money to be spent on lighting for the parks and library renovations.
Neither Smith nor Harhai responded to repeated telephone calls and emails seeking comment.
Retos said he favors using the funds for other projects, such as paving more streets and demolishing more dilapidated buildings.
Upgrading the library was “a good idea, but we went severely over budget and actually had to take out a second bond issue,” he said. The city borrowed $2.5 million to finish the work because of cost overruns.
“We were getting change orders on change orders,” he added.
Mavrakis said the amphitheater could wind up a white elephant that the city can't afford. Council voted to spend a $250,000 grant from the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources as matching funds for $250,000 from Community Development Block Grants from the past two years.
“I'm not for the amphitheater,” Mavrakis said. “That money could be spent in other areas. They knew they were leaving office, and they did it anyway.”
Mavrakis said the city's population is small, and he doubts an amphitheater would draw crowds from elsewhere unless officials can obtain money to pay bands and market the facility.
“Someone forgot to tell them Guy Lombardo is dead,” he said.
He said the former administration left no plans about how the venue would be used or how concerts would be booked.
“They just buried me in more red ink,” he said.
Richard Gazarik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-830-6292 or email@example.com.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Harhai campaign emails from 2007 under review, Westmoreland County DA says
- Expansion in works for Mt. Pleasant Glass Museum
- Energy company responsible for polluting Donegal well appeals state’s finding
- Former Pagans leader works out plea agreement
- 1 dead, 1 injured in Derry Twp. crash
- Latrobe group cancels raffle, seeks ticket holders for refunds
- 40-year-old Latrobe woman used boy, 13, for sex, drugs, police say
- Ligonier Township considers cellphone tower requests
- Woman charged with assault spree in Jeannette
- 2 suspects charged with second robbery in Hempfield
- New York fuel cell company to add another plant in Mt. Pleasant Township