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New Kensington mayor accentuates city's positives

| Thursday, Jan. 6, 2011

New Kensington Mayor Tom Guzzo hopes 2011 will start on a better note than 2010.

During his first month in office last year, Guzzo weathered the closing of a downtown grocery store and crippling blizzards that resulted in the declaration of a state of emergency.

But even "snowmageddon" offered a prime example of city officials, employees and residents "coming together for the greater good," he said. And a new grocery store opened within a few months in Central City Plaza.

Guzzo offered a "state of the city" report on New Kensington's progress since he took the oath of office one year ago. Previously a city councilman, he was elected to replace Mayor Frank Link, who did not seek re-election.

Guzzo reported several positive developments during his short tenure:

• Cosmetic improvements from new energy-efficient streetlights and welcoming signs and banners downtown.

• Demolition of 30 blighted city buildings.

• At least nine new businesses, including an antiques store that opened in November.

• For the police department, new in-car computers, cameras monitoring major intersections and extensive officer training.

• Three new neighborhood watch groups and several grants acquired through the Weed and Seed program.

• An amnesty program that has collected $20,000 in delinquent garbage bills.

• A state award for Memorial Park and the continuation of a Christmas tree recycling program.

Guzzo said the year ended on a high note with the first holiday community dinner.

The city has much to look forward to this year, he said, including more economic development; the condemnation of more neglected buildings; a new fire engine that should arrive this week; a new police car and police officer; and cooperative regional efforts through the Westmoreland Economic Development Initiative for Growth, of which Guzzo is vice chairman.

In other news, Controller John Zavadak said the garbage bill amnesty program, which offers discounts for deadbeats who settle their accounts, will continue through Feb. 15.

A 30 percent discount is available to individuals who pay by Jan. 15; bills paid by Feb. 15 will be reduced by 20 percent.

Zavadak said the $20,000 collected so far was from people taking advantage of a 50 percent discount.

That means nearly $40,000 was eliminated from the delinquent accounts, which topped $300,000 last year.

After Feb. 15, Zavadak said, the city will begin to file tax liens against property owners and take tenants to court at District Judge Frank J. Pallone Jr.'s office.

Garbage bills will be placed in the names of landlords rather than tenants who can more easily avoid payment, Zavadak noted.

The city is working with a landlords association to require property owners — or at least a property manager — to live within a certain distance of rental properties owned in the city, Guzzo said. Officials believe that will reduce neglect and problems that code enforcement officers face in contacting landlords.

Councilman Doug Aftanas said he hopes to create a commission to improve environmental awareness, look for related grants and continue the city's "green" efforts.

"Everybody working together is what is right about New Kensington," Guzzo said. "What's wrong with New Kensington can be fixed by what's right with New Kensington."

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