MONESSEN – Council members authorized the city administrator and solicitor to explore the process to file for state help under an act meant to aid financially distressed communities.

Acting Mayor and Councilman Tony Orzechowski said the fact-finding mission is only precautionary at this time.

“Monessen is still struggling financially, and we need to know how this process works, in case we have to consider Act 47,” he said.

Under the act, distressed communities can receive loans and grants as well as assistance to formulate a financial recovery plan, according to the state Department of Community and Economic Development.

Several communities have received Act 47 help since its adoption more than three decades ago, though none in Washington, Westmoreland, Fayette or Greene counties.

Orzechowski stressed that the city isn’t ready to ask for state help, as officials are still hopeful that their comprehensive plan will help keep Monessen out of bankruptcy.

“We hope our comprehensive plan will give us some ideas for revitalizing our city,” he said.

Councilwoman Lois Thomas said about 30 city residents attended a community meeting last week to review updates to the plan.

“During the meeting, the group narrowed down a list of ideas to four key priorities,” she said. “We will be scheduling focus groups to further discuss these ideas. So far, we have identified our problems and targeted major blight areas. We are hopeful that funding will be available to implement some of these projects.”

In an unrelated matter, council members said they hope to move forward with a plan to sell a large group of city-owned properties that were obtained several years ago from the Westmoreland County Real Estate Repository.

Solicitor Joseph Dalfonso said most of the 400 properties are vacant lots. He made a recommendation to give first priority to city residents who want to buy an adjacent property.

“Our rationale is that someone who lives next door will be more inclined to take care of the property than someone who lives across town or out of town,” he said. “The goal is to eliminate blight and put these vacant properties back on the tax roll.”

Dalfonso said the city would sell the properties using a sealed bid process, with a minimum bid of $400 for each.

“That will alleviate a problem if two adjacent neighbors are interested in buying the same property,” he said. “If no bids are received from adjacent property owners, we will open up the bids to outsiders.”

Dalfonso said the city still needs to determine how it will advertise the properties. Once council finalizes preparations, it will display a map of the vacant properties at city hall.

In other business:

  • Council accepted a letter of resignation from police Officer William Dennison.
  • Orzechowski noted a state Department of Transportation subcontractor will resume work Monday and Tuesday to complete a road paving project on Donner Avenue. He added that PennDOT will next address repairs to Route 906, close to the Charleroi-Monessen Bridge.
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