City of Washington adopts budget, approves library loan

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Plans for a new heating and air conditioning system for Citizens Library are moving forward after Washington City Council Thursday retroactively approved an application and a contract with the state Department of Education for a $500,000 matching grant.

Council awarded a $998,400 HVAC contract to Professional Mechanical Sales and Services Inc. of Cheswick to overhaul the library’s 50-year-old heating and air conditioning system.

Council also approved an agreement with the library which calls for Citizens to pay all matching funds required under the Keystone Grant between the Department of Education and the city.

Mayor Brenda Davis said the actions were taken after she and council members became aware that council never approved the application of the grant, which was awarded under the Keystone Recreation, Park and Conservation Fund.

Council member Joe Manning, who sits on the library’s board of directors, applied for the grant on behalf of the city of Washington for Citizens Library and then signed the contract, with councilman Terry Faust, on the city’s behalf.

“Generally, the library would come to the city and ask the city to apply for a grant on behalf of them, but that was not done,” said Davis. “When we found out on Monday that the city was on hook for half a million dollars with no guarantee from the library, then we did a preliminary investiagtion to see if (the application, the contract and the cooperation agreement) really were passed. We couldn’t find any record of it, so we had to go back and approve the application, the contract and the cooperation agreement with the library stating they guarantee they are going to secure the extra funds needed for the project so that the taxpayers of the city of Washington will not be on the hook for that.”

Manning contends the city was not in jeopardy of being responsible for the $500,000 because the library has the funds in an endowed trust.

“It was a procedural error, if anything,” said Manning. “The library approached me about running the grant through the city – the city owns the building – and I said we could. I don’t know why there was no documentation, but there was nothing done that would have put the city in jeopardy.”

Citizens Library was notified in February that it had received the $500,000 state grant. At that time, library director Diane L. Ambrose said the library’s main building, erected in 1965, was still using the original heating and cooling system. The overhaul should significantly lower energy and consumption costs.

An endowed trust set aside specifically for capital improvements will be used to provide the dollar-for-dollar match required by the grant program.

Also on Thursday, Tom Schneck, president of the West End Neighborhood Watch and Tori Haring-Smith, president of Washington & Jefferson College, presented city police Chief Chris Luppino and council with $6,315 that will go toward the purchase of two police dogs. This summer, city police announced they would like to add two K-9s to the force. The dogs would be trained to detect drugs and would assist in apprehending individuals.

K-9 dogs typically cost between $7,500 and $12,000.

The college donated $6,000, while the Neighborhood Watch and Duncan & Miller added $315.

In another matter, council adopted its 2014 budget with no tax increase. The $12,815,655 spending plan is only a $312,000 increase from the 2013 budget, noted Davis.

Also, council presented a highlight video of the Allegheny Conference on Community Development’s Strengthening Communities Partnership. The goal of the SCP is to make long-term, positive impacts in participating communities by concentrating private investment through tax credits purchased by businesses in the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development Neighborhood Partnership Program. The City of Washington Citywide Development Corporation is one of five CDCs selected for a pilot round of investments.

Note: Donations for the police dogs can be sent to the City of Washington K-9 Fund, 56 W. Strawberry Ave., Washington, PA 15301.

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