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Vicites fires back; letter shows where money went and why

| Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2008

A Fayette County commissioner accused of reneging on $10,000 in emergency repairs for a Perryopolis bridge fired back Tuesday, producing a letter from the borough that shows where the money went and why.

Commissioner Vincent Vicites was lambasted Monday by Perryopolis officials who claimed he revoked a state Liquid Fuels Tax emergency aid allocation approved in March.

Borough council President Charles Johnson blamed Vicites for a quarter-mill property tax increase, enacted to cover the $10,000 loss of promised funds for bridge work to connect Pope John Paul II Way to Route 51.

The borough's tax rate increased to 2.701 mills, which yields $165,000 of the $571,000 budget.

"He cost the people of Perryopolis a quarter-mill tax increase because that money was in our budget," Johnson said. "That is wrong to do that to people. It's wrong to do that. It's just not very professional."

Vicites said the emergency aid money was approved and put toward a $10,000 overpayment Perryopolis received in 2003.

"In a sense, they got the money," Vicites said. "They got it in '03 and had to pay it back with this extra allocation in March of '07. It went toward the deficit that needed to be satisfied."

The borough's Liquid Fuels allocation was overpaid in 2003 because of a coding error by Fayette County Controller Mark Roberts' office. By the time a state auditor found the mistake, Perryopolis officials had spent the money.

According to a letter sent to the county in September 2004 by borough Secretary Colleen Pontoriero, officials were aware that any future Liquid Fuels money would go toward paying back the debt.

"After speaking to our solicitor about this, he said we could set up some type of payment plan where small payments could be made," Pontoriero wrote. "He suggested that we apply for Liquid Fuels in the future and when awarded not accept payment and use this to pay back the $10,000."

Though county officials administer Liquid Fuels allocations, it is state money.

"It wasn't my call," Vicites said. "I'm getting slammed for this, and it's clear in this letter how the borough's Liquid Fuels money would be handled. In these types of scenarios -- with state money -- we can award funds, but it has to be properly distributed.

"State auditors found the discrepancy, and it had to be rectified before further funds could be disbursed."

Now that Perryopolis has paid the debt, any new Liquid Fuels allocations will be available for spending.

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