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Latrobe to consider refinance bond to fund capital projects on the horizon

With interest rates currently low, the City of Latrobe is looking to refinance a 2016 general obligation bond that could help finance some of the city’s capital projects.

“The interest rates are pretty low and are favorable for us to consider refinancing the bond,” City Manager Michael Gray said during Monday’s agenda prep meeting.

Refinancing the bond could help pay for repairs to the downtown parking garage, compactor at the transfer station, as well as reimbursement for the $105,300 excavator the city purchased in October.

The city on Feb. 22 will hold a special meeting to consider a resolution for appointing a bond counsel and underwriter — who will assess the city’s bond rating.

“Once we have the rating, we can take a look at what we want to do,” Gray said.

He said options for refinancing the bond include: No changes to the base amount and/or years added to the bond; no changes to the base amount, but extending the bond payments by an additional two years; or increasing the base amount of $3.1 million — initially issued to pay for work at the parking garage — to cover capital expenditures and extend bond payment by approximately two years.

Gray said the first two options are cost savings to the city, while the third option would allow the city to make repairs to the downtown parking garage located between Weldon and Spring streets which has deteriorating concrete cantilevers. The latter option includes increasing the base amount of the bond by $400,000 to $500,000, Gray estimated.

“We haven’t stabilized any issues at the parking garage,” Gray said. “The only thing that we did was put a protective cover over the cantilever sections to prohibit anything from falling onto the sidewalk down below.”

Mayor Rosie Wolford expressed concern over the parking garage and compactor.

“The parking garage is a safety issue and ... if that compactor goes down, we have that thing put together right now I think with duct tape and welding rods,” she said. “I really think we need to consider making sure we have enough money, if the cost is not prohibitive, to fix those.”

The city’s capital funds budget for 2021 shows $643,072 — which Wolford said is not enough to fix the parking garage and compactor.

“We’re not going to fix those out of our budget, and we’re not going to buy a new compactor with money out of our budget,” she said. “And if we lose the compactor, we shut down the transfer station. We’ve been doing well there. It’s been a money maker for us and it’s something that we really need to think about.”

Officials said no decision will be made until hearing from the bond counsel and underwriter.

Councilman Jim Kelley agreed with Wolford that repairs to the parking garage are necessary. He referred to the previous repairs as “bandaids,” adding, “Bandaids don’t last forever. We need to get rid of the bandaid.”

He argued the parking garage is still viable, despite acknowledging, “We’ve taken a hit because of the pandemic.”

“It’s always been a strong point of our downtown to have that parking garage for people who are employed here or do come in to shop,” he said. “I just don’t think we give up on it. I think we do what we can to save it.”

Gray supported Kelley’s suggestion, adding that he believes there are things the city can do to preserve the garage from deteriorating further.

“Until we know we are going to have money secured for the funding, then we can take a look at options available for the repair of that,” he said. “I don’t believe that we need to go to the extent of a demolition or removing the cantilever sections.”

Also at Monday’s agenda prep meeting, council discussed considering a cooperation agreement with Derry Borough for a joint code and zoning officer. Gray said there have been nine applicants, so far, and that Latrobe is looking to move forward with filling the position before the agreement is made.

“We need a person no matter what, so we’re moving ahead on filling that position,” he said.

Solicitor John Greiner said the agreement has been drafted, adding work is 80-90% complete on Latrobe’s end.

“We will then send it over to Derry Borough Council for their review and comments,” he said.

The city hopes to have the agreement ready for approval at its Feb. 8 meeting.

Council on Feb. 8 will also consider approving a 2% increase for residential and commercial customers for trash removal, under the city’s five-year contract with Republic Services. The approval of schedule of rate fees also includes a $75 fee for land disturbances per application for plan review to comply with a stormwater management ordinance and the annual one-time $90 stormwater management fee per equivalent residential unit.

Last month, council discussed customers continuing to pay an additional 40-cent sticker fee per garbage bag. However, council is leaning towards selling the stickers in sheets of 12 for $4.80, instead of 10 for $4 due to a change in vendor.

But on Monday, councilman Ralph Jenko proposed upping the cost to a flat $5 at the conveniences of vendors — Shop ‘n Save, transfer station and Latrobe City Hall (Latrobe Municipal Building) — selling the stickers who accept cash-only.

“I might see some vendors not wanting to handle this anymore,” he said.

Jenko proposed reducing other garbage fees for customers to offset the $0.20 increase.

However, other officials were hesitant to raise any more rates this year.

“The biggest problem I have this year is all the fees that our community is incurring,” Gray said. “Stormwater program; garbage service is going up; I’m just reluctant to put anything more on the citizens here in Latrobe.”

In other business, council discussed a resolution that would make the west side of East Harrison Avenue permit parking from East Monroe Street to East Grant streets. Last month, a complainant related to the city that cars from a nearby auto repair shop were parked along that stretch of road, requesting permit parking be added there.

Police chief John Sleasman said he spoke with the owner of the shop, adding that the cars were temporarily moved. He said the owner is looking to lease a lot to park the cars there, avoiding the need to add permit parking.

“I would rather we not have to do the permit parking if we don’t have to,” Wolford said.

At a future voting meeting, council will consider approving:

  • Applications for traffic signal approval for each of Lincoln Avenue, Cedar and Ligonier streets to submit to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) for the city’s Automated Red Light Enforcement (ARLE) project aimed to install flashing school zone signs near Latrobe Elementary School. Gray said after PennDOT approves the plans, the project can be put out for bid;
  • Subdivision plan for Lopatich-Brinker Funeral Home LLC on Weldon Street. The Lopatiches are requesting to subdivide the funeral home from the two-story house in which they reside;
  • Ratifying the agreement for a school resource officer with the Greater Latrobe School District;
  • Appointing Carl “Skip” Bollinger to the Latrobe Municipal Authority Board;
  • Continuing the city’s declaration of emergency until March 8;
  • Appointing Diane Mogle to the Latrobe Industrial Development Authority (LIDA) with a term expiring Jan. 31, 2023; Francis Tandarich to LIDA with a term expiring Jan. 31, 2025; reappointing Anita Manoli to LIDA for a five-year term to expire on Jan. 31, 2026; reappointing Charles Dominick to the LIDA for a five-year term to expire on Jan. 31, 2024.

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Owner of Dainty Pastry Shoppe donates to Latrobe police

What a sweet donation.

Curt Colaianne, owner of the Dainty Pastry Shoppe on Depot Street, recently donated $3,000 to the Latrobe Police Department. He presented a check to City Manager Michael Gray during Monday’s agenda prep meeting.

“The purpose of this was to give something back from the shop to the community, that the police department might be able to use it in efforts to help them out,” he said.

The police department will use the donation to outfit one of its patrol vehicles with computer upgrades.

“We have for a while wanted to do something in efforts to the police department to offer them a donation so that they can pursue some needs that we’ve discussed with the chief,” Colaianne said.

Sleasman, who attended Monday’s meeting virtually, thanked the Colaiannes for their generosity.

“We greatly appreciate your donation,” he said. “It will go to good use. ... Please tell the rest of your family we appreciate it very much.”

Colaianne added that the donation was made “in memory of my grandfather who started the operation, and my dad, and also my brother Jim, who just recently passed away.”

He said his grandfather started the pastry shop in 1947. Then his parents took over in 1971 before the third generation took over in the mid-1990s.

“We have been around for a while. Good Lord willing, we’ll still be here for a little while,” he said. “That’s kind of the retirement plan. I’m still going, so we’re going to do fine.”

Mayor Rosie Wolford also expressed gratitude to the family during Monday’s meeting.

“Thank you very much on behalf of the city, and also for being such a great business in our downtown, and for your many, many years of commitment to our community, and the great food and the great baked goods and all the good stuff that you guys do,” she said.

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LTMA approves 2021 budget with no changes to customer rates

The Ligonier Township Municipal Authority (LTMA) board met last week to approve a 2021 budget for the authority that does not include any rate changes for water or sewer customers.

The overall budget projects the authority to generate a net income of roughly $488,000 across its water and sanitary sewer departments. The sewer department is budgeted to be roughly $74,000 ahead in 2021 while the water system is projected to generate about $414,000 in net income.

The authority last increased rates for water service on Oct. 1, 2019, ahead of a planned water system improvement project. Authority board members at their Jan. 8 meeting were concerned an increase to sewage rates may also be needed, but no rate changes were included in the approved budget.

In other business at Wednesday’s meeting, the LTMA board learned water system engineer Jake Bolby of the EADS Group contacted Mountain Research regarding testing to determine potential alternative groundwater sources in response to the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) comments regarding the size of the spillway at the authority’s existing reservoir.

The LTMA has until May to submit its plan to the DEP addressing the spillway capacity.

The authority is also continuing to prepare for a water line replacement project along Trout Avenue in the Waterford area of the township and working to acquire easements. The project was approved for $200,000 in Community Development Block Grant funds administered by Westmoreland County.

The authority has also posted to its website seeking candidates for a full-time water and sewer laborer job opening. A job description for the position is available on the website, www.ligtwpwater.com. Interested applicants can drop off résumés in the LTMA drop box at the Ligonier Township Municipal Complex or mail them to the LTMA at One Municipal Park Drive, Ligonier, PA 15658.

The water department has been working on installing new Badger water meters in the Waterford Waterworks area of the township.

The meters and previously purchased software allow for remote meter readings from Badger meters equipped with cellular endpoints through a cloud-based program, meaning the authority can retrieve usage information from those meters in real time from anywhere, including the LTMA office.

Authority workers also addressed three recent water line breaks — Jan. 9 in the Darlington area of the township, Jan. 14 near the authority’s reservoir and Jan. 16 near Weller Field.

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Commissioners award funding to fire departments, EMS providers

The Westmoreland County Commissioners held a special meeting Monday to award more than $400,000 in funding to volunteer fire departments and emergency medical services providers.

The commissioners approved awarding $60,000 — $15,000 each — to four EMS providers through the Westmoreland CARES EMS Support Grant Program.

The providers that received funding included Oklahoma EMS, Vandergrift EMS, Rescue 14 EMS Inc. and Mount Pleasant Township Volunteer Fire Company No. 1 of Kecksburg.

The commissioners also awarded $343,592.93 to 16 fire departments through the Westmoreland CARES Fire Department Support Grant Program.

The money awarded Monday to EMS agencies and fire departments comes from the county’s general fund, the commissioners said. In December, the commissioners awarded federal coronavirus (COVID-19) relief funds to volunteer fire departments and EMS providers, but restrictions on the federal money prevented the county from awarding it directly to others.

The commissioners explained previously that only fire departments and EMS providers with the 501©(3) designation were eligible to receive the federal funding — $481,237.89 to 24 volunteer fire departments and $134,063.77 to 10 EMS providers.

Because the federal restrictions left out many county emergency response agencies, the commissioners last month vowed to make the funding awarded Monday available.

Fire departments could receive up to $25,000 through the Westmoreland CARES Fire Department Support Grant Program, and EMS providers up to $15,000 from the Westmoreland CARES EMS Support Grant Program.

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County reports 156 new COVID-19 cases, three deaths

Westmoreland County recorded 156 new coronavirus (COVID-19) cases and three virus-related deaths Monday after averaging fewer than 100 cases per day over the weekend.

The county recorded 91 new coronavirus cases Friday and 140 on Saturday, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Health, before registering its lowest single-day increase since Nov. 5 on Sunday with 57 new cases.

The 57 new cases added Sunday represent the lowest single-day increase in the county since Nov. 5, when there were 56 new cases reported. Friday and Sunday marked the second and third days in 2021 with fewer than 100 new cases.

Westmoreland County has added fewer than 200 new coronavirus cases in each of the past 11 days and has had fewer than 175 new cases in 10 of those 11 days.

With the new coronavirus cases reported Monday, there have now been 24,175 cases in Westmoreland County since the first cases were reported here in March — 17,487 confirmed cases and 6,688 probable. There have been 4,842 new coronavirus cases reported since the start of 2021, an average of 193.68 per day.

The three new coronavirus deaths reported Monday in Westmoreland County bring the total since the start of the pandemic to 571 and the total this year to 148, averaging 5.92 deaths reported per day in 2021 based on state data.

The death rate has slowed since December, which was Westmoreland County’s worst month of the pandemic with 224 deaths (7.2 per day) and more than 10,000 new cases.

The first coronavirus deaths for Westmoreland County were reported April 5, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Health.

The youngest person to die of COVID-19 in Westmoreland County was 36, according to the county coroner’s office, and the oldest 109.

Statewide, coronavirus cases reached 807,867 as of Mounday’s update to the Pennsylvania Department of Health’s COVID-19 Dashboard. That case total includes 710,456 confirmed cases in the state and 97,411 probable cases. Throughout Pennsylvania, there had been 20,664 coronavirus-related deaths reported as of Monday’s update.

Of the state’s coronavirus deaths, 10,230 (49.5%) are associated with long term care facilities, which have been virus hotspots throughout the pandemic.

According to the Pennsylvania Department of Health, there have been 61,629 coronavirus cases among residents and 11,593 cases among staff members at 1,529 long term care facilities throughout the state.

In Westmoreland County, according to the state health department, 49 long-term care facilities have accounted for 1,881 positive COVID-19 cases among residents, 251 cases among staff members and 215 coronavirus deaths as of the state health department’s last update to long term care facility data at noon Monday.

Distribution of COVID-19 vaccines is continuing, and residents and staff of long term care facilities are among those being vaccinated in the first phase of the state’s vaccine rollout.

The state health department’s COVID-19 Vaccine Dashboard indicates there have been 565,843 initial doses of coronavirus vaccinations administered in the state, including 15,202 in Westmoreland County as of Monday’s update.

Currently, all COVID-19 vaccines authorized for emergency use require two doses spread out several weeks apart.

As of Monday’s update, 114,376 people had received a second dose of their COVID-19 vaccination in Pennsylvania and were considered “full vaccinations” according to the vaccine dashboard. Of those full vaccinations, 3,798 were administered in Westmoreland County, according to the site.

COVID-19 hospitalizations throughout the state decreased over the weekend and continued to decline Monday. There were 3,887 coronavirus patients hospitalized in Pennsylvania as of Monday’s update, down from 3,910 Sunday and 4,758 on Thursday. Of coronavirus patients hospitalized Monday, 770 were in adult intensive care units and 461 were on ventilators. Both those figures represented a decrease from Sunday, when 790 were in adult intensive care units and 492 were on ventilators.

In Westmoreland County, the patient total decreased slightly since Sunday. There were 145 COVID-19 patients hospitalized in the county Monday, compared to 148 Sunday and 146 on Thursday, according to the state health department. As of Monday’s update there were nine coronavirus patients in adult intensive care units in the county and seven on ventilators. Of the 96 ventilators available in Westmoreland County, according to state data, a total of 24 were in use by COVID and non-COVID patients as of Monday’s update.

According to state figures last updated at noon Monday, there were 28 adult ICU beds available at Westmoreland County hospitals — 31.1% of total adult ICU beds — 88 medical/surgical beds and 103 airborne isolation beds.

The state years ago established seven regional Health Care Coalitions, or HCCs, as part of its emergency preparedness plan. Westmoreland County is part of the HCC of Southwest PA, or the Southwest region, which also includes Allegheny, Armstrong, Beaver, Butler, Cambria, Fayette, Greene, Indiana, Lawrence, Mercer, Somerset and Washington counties.

The Southwest region overall saw a reduction in COVID-19 patients, with 716 coronavirus patients hospitalized in the region as of Monday’s update. The region had 717 patients patients hospitalized for COVID-19 on Sunday and 787 Thursday. Of coronavirus patients hospitalized in the region on Monday, 153 were on adult intensive care units and 82 were on ventilators.

Overall, 402 of the region’s 1,552 available ventilators were in use as of Monday’s update.

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Clerk of Courts tabbed as new Westmoreland County Prison warden

The Westmoreland County Prison Board on Monday voted to make the elected head of another county department the top administrator at the prison, formally offering the vacant warden position to third-term Republican Clerk of Courts Bryan Kline.

“I appreciate the confidence the prison board has in me being the administrator of that facility and I look forward to it,” Kline said, noting there remain details to be ironed out regarding his transition into the new position. “I’m not making a declaration on my future role as Clerk of Courts until we work through the details.”

Kline’s seat as Clerk of Courts will appear on ballots in November, as his third term is set to expire at the end of the year.

Prison board members touted Kline’s academic background in criminology, along with his current pursuit of a doctoral degree in criminal justice and his performance as Clerk of Courts.

Kline, 39, of Penn Township, holds a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from Lock Haven University and a master’s degree in law and public policy from California University of Pennsylvania. He is enrolled in an online doctorate program at St. Leo University in Florida. Kline said he is working on a dissertation regarding re-entry programs for inmates and reducing recidivism, and is on track to receive his doctorate in 2022.

“Whenever we’re hiring county employees, we always look at experience plus education and it’s a balancing act,” Commissioner Gina Cerilli said, noting Kline’s pursuit of a doctorate in criminal justice, “balances out not having experience at the county jail.”

Cerilli specifically pointed to Kline’s focus on re-entry programs for inmates as a potential positive for the prison.

“I hope with Bryan’s expertise in that, we can help change inmates’ lives,” she said.

Kertes noted Kline’s academic experience as an instructor as well as a student in the criminal justice field.

“Bryan teaches as an adjunct professor in corrections at Seton Hill University, so he understands the whole process. The hands-on training aspect, he does not have,” Kertes said. “But, as any elected official, row officer and other department head that comes into county government, a lot do not have hands-on training. Their second-in-command or third-in-command show them how to do the job... Bryan Kline, when he came into the Clerk of Courts Office, showed everyone how he can do the job, and I think he will do the same thing as warden.”

The board’s decision to offer the position to Kline came after District Attorney John Peck and Controller Jeffrey Balzer moved for the position to go to the prison’s longtime second-in-command, George Lowther, 60, of Latrobe, who has been serving as the acting warden at the Hempfield Township facility since former warden John Walton’s retirement last year.

Lowther has worked at Westmoreland County Prison for nearly three decades, advancing from part-time corrections officer to deputy warden before taking on command of the facility following Walton’s departure in November.

Commissioner Sean Kertes praised Lowther’s performance serving as acting warden, but looked forward to Kline bringing his expertise to the prison.

“George has done a fantastic job,” Kertes said of Lowther. “He’s been very responsive, receptive and kept the prison running. But we now have an opportunity for an individual who’s receiving their Ph.D., Bryan Kline, showing interest.”

After the motion to promote Lowther failed, the board voted 5-1 to offer the warden job to Kline. Balzer offered the lone vote in opposition, citing concerns over Kline’s lack of job experience in the corrections field, but praised Kline’s character and his work as Clerk of Courts.

“I believe he has a solid character and I believe he’s displayed extraordinary confidence and leadership in serving as the elected Clerk of Courts of Westmoreland County,” Balzer said of Kline. “With that being said, Mr. Kline’s suitability to serve as the warden of Westmoreland County Prison is a concern. While his education is certainly superior to the other candidates, his experience in the field of corrections is virtually non-existent. While experience is frequently accepted as a substitute for education, I believe it’s rare that education is substituted for experience.”

In other business Monday, the prison board reorganized for 2021, selecting Commissioner Doug Chew to serve as chairman, with Cerilli continuing in her role as vice-chair and Balzer continuing as secretary.

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Latrobe Kinder-Schull sponsoring collection drive for Blackburn Center

Latrobe Kinder-Schull is giving back to the community while raising awareness for a good cause.

After learning that donations to Greensburg-based Blackburn Center have been significantly lower than usual, the step-up classroom at Latrobe Kinder-Schull decided to help.

Staff, families and students have been collecting items needed for clients and residents of Blackburn Center, ranging from kitchenware and hygiene products to dry goods and nonperishable food items.

Latrobe Kinder-Schull has extended the deadline of its collection drive to Feb. 5.

The drop-off point is the foyer at Latrobe Kinder-Schull, 320 McKinley Ave., in Latrobe (across from DiSalvo’s). Drop-off times are weekdays from 6:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Through the donation drive, Latrobe Kinder-Schull is hoping to raise awareness of Blackburn Center’s vision of a world free from domestic and sexual violence and other forms of violence.

Blackburn Center advocates for the rights of all individuals to live free from domestic and sexual violence and other forms of violence by eliminating the root causes of this violence and providing for the well-being and safety of survivors/victims, according to its website.

Tamara Mahady announces bid for Unity Twp. district judge

Latrobe lawyer Tamara Mahady has announced her candidacy for magisterial district judge in the Unity Township area.

Mahady currently works as an attorney for the Westmoreland County Public Defender’s Office, which represents those who face possible incarceration but cannot afford to hire their own private attorney, according to the county’s website.

She has devoted her legal career to public service, with experience at both the county and state level. Mahady’s legal background includes working as a criminal defense attorney for the county and serving as assistant counsel for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, under the state’s Department of Transportation.

“I have represented my community in criminal matters and I have represented my state in civil matters,” she said. “Those two diverse legal roles have prepared me for the exact job of a magisterial district judge, who hear criminal cases one day and civil cases the next day.”

She added that being a district judge would allow her to combine her criminal and civil legal skills and put them to use in one job.

In addition to serving the community professionally, Mahady is also an active Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) volunteer, an organization that helps abused and neglected children in Westmoreland County.

“Helping people isn’t just my professional goal, it is my life’s pursuit,” she said.

Mahady is a lifelong resident of the Unity Township and Latrobe area.

Gina O’Barto announces run for Westmoreland County prothonotary

Gina O’Barto of Unity Township has announced her candidacy for Westmoreland County prothonotary.

“As a fiscally conservative Republican, I believe we can make improvements that will save taxpayers money and improve accessibility.” she said in a release. “Incorporating more technology into the office would help to allow Westmoreland residents 24-hour access to their government without ever having to drive to the courthouse.”

Christina O’Brien, a Democrat, has served three terms as the county’s prothonotary since 2010, but reportedly is not expected to run for a fourth term. O’Barto narrowly lost the 2017 Republican primary for the prothonotary position to Kimberly Horrell.

O’Barto is currently employed in the Westmoreland County Controller’s Office. She formerly worked as an executive assistant at Redstone Highlands as well as a purchasing manager at Columbia Northwest. She is a graduate of Business Careers Institute and a member of the Sons of Italy, a board member of the Arts and Heritage Festival, National Rifle Association (NRA) and Fire Owners Against Crime and District 12 Republican Committee.

O’Barto plans to be accountable to the taxpayers of Westmoreland County by being “present and on the job” in order to ensure the prothonotary office runs efficiently.

“I’ll be an active officeholder and I will strive to offer the best possible customer service while maintaining the privacy and security that the public expects with such confidential records,” she said.

She is married to Unity Township Supervisor Mike O’Barto.

According to the county’s website, the prothonotary is an essential part of the judicial system and serves as the clerk of the Civil Division of the Court of Common Pleas. The prothonotary has administrative control over and responsibility for all official documents and records of the civil and family divisions.