Jeannette struggles to find money to pay judgment

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Time could be running out for Jeannette to come up with the money to pay more than $272,000 in damages and legal fees it owes to a city businessman and his attorney.

"The clock is definitely ticking, and it's ticking loudly," said Robert Lightcap, the attorney for Frank Trigona.

"We're very sympathetic with the plight of the city of Jeannette. However, what the city has done to my client shouldn't have occurred in the first place."

Mr. Trigona sued the city after he was denied a building permit to repair a building he owned on South Fourth Street and denied the renewal of his health license for a restaurant he owned on Clay Avenue. Both were denied because he owed back taxes to the city. Mr. Trigona argued that the city's actions were illegal, Mr. Lightcap said.

Westmoreland County Common Pleas Judge Richard McCormick Jr. found in Mr. Trigona's favor and issued the judgment against the city. The court's decision was later upheld upon appeal by the state Supreme Court.

Last week, Judge McCormick ordered the city, which is teetering on declaring bankruptcy under Act 47 of the Pennsylvania Municipal Recovery Act, to pay the original judgment of $234,000 plus another $35,000 in interest. In addition, the city must pay the costs of the suit.

Under Act 47, Jeannette would be declared financially distressed and subjected to the state taking control of city affairs.

The judge ruled that if the city doesn't have the money, officials will have to resort to whatever means necessary, including raising taxes or borrowing, to pay Mr. Trigona. No deadline was set for when the city must come up with the money.

Mr. Lightcap said his client is trying to be patient, assuming "the city fathers are working in good faith."

But, he added, "They've already had an awfully long time" to take action.

City solicitor Scott Avolio acknowledged that Jeannette does not have the cash on hand to pay Mr. Trigona but council is attempting to restructure its debt to come up with it.

If refinancing proves not to be an option, Mr. Avolio said he will attempt to reach an agreement with Mr. Trigona to accept either a lesser amount or payments. Otherwise, the city may be forced to file Act 47, something it has desperately been trying to avoid.

"The city is aware it owes the money, but we don't have it," Mr. Avolio said. "Council is considering its options daily."

If or when Mr. Trigona's patience wears out, Mr. Lightcap said he will return to the court to request immediate payment. If the judge rules in his favor, the city could be held in contempt of the previous court order.

"I haven't thought about how long we'll give the city. It's entirely up to Mr. Trigona," Mr. Lightcap said.

Meanwhile, a bank has filed a garnishment against the city requiring that any money due to Mr. Trigona be paid to the bank for a loan he defaulted on. That matter has not yet been argued in court, according to Mr. Lightcap.

neigh_east - neigh_westmoreland

Linda Metz, freelance writer: suburbanliving@post-gazette.com


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