Fire station closing opposed

STEUBENVILLE – City Council members will continue internal discussions that may lead to the formation of the first charter review commission since 1992, and listened silently as firefighters and residents voiced opposition to the proposed closing of the Pleasant Heights fire station.

International Association of Fire Fighters Local 238 President Chris Blackburn on Tuesday led the passionate arguments against closing the fire station, citing his “disgust and total disagreement with the proposal.”

“By getting rid of the fire house we are turning the city into a city that is up north where they have fire after fire. This decision is morally bankrupt,” said Blackburn, who then singled out 6th Ward Councilman David Lalich for supporting the closing.

“I will not debate this with you,” responded Lalich.

“I will answer your questions. There was a proposal to generate additional revenue with a street lighting fee and putting in traffic cameras. During the past two weeks the Ohio Legislature proposed making traffic cameras illegal. We had talked about adding a street lighting fee to utility bills. But there have been questions if we could do that or would need to put them on property taxes. But we receive the property taxes six months later and so we were forced to look at different options,” explained City Manager Cathy Davison.

“Your decision will put people’s lives in jeopardy. A fire doubles in size every 30 seconds. We will do everything we can to save lives because we care about the citizens of Steubenville,” said Blackburn.

Also speaking against the closing of the fire station and proposed lay off of five firefighters was 29-year veteran city firefighter Gray Nagy who asked if fire Chief Carlo Capaldi was involved in the decision making process.

“The station least likely needed to be closed is the Pleasant Heights fire station because the houses on Pleasant Heights and LaBelle are older and close together. The station more likely best for closing is the West End station because the houses are farther apart,” Nagy said.

“If we are all going to give up something equal to what council gave up, then give me some figures,” Nagy added.

And Robert Moore, a city firefighter with 10 years of experience warned, “citizens will be hurt if you close the Pleasant Heights fire station. If you close the station the odds of a tragedy will go up 10-fold.”

Also speaking in opposition to the proposed closing of the fire station were Teresa DiCarlantonio, Sarah DiCarlantonio and Nathaniel Richmond.

Council is expected to introduce a balanced budget ordinance Tuesday during a sunshine meeting and vote on the measure on March 12.

Council agreed to meet at 7 p.m. on March 12 to continue talking about the possibility of a charter review commission.

“This is something I wanted to bring up. We are looking for ways to cut costs and we should look at this, too. I feel we could have a charter review commission look at the charter and that committee could suggest recommendations. The suggested changes would then go to the city voters to decide. This could be a way to save money. The times have changed in our city,” stated 5th Ward Councilman Willie Paul.

“If the council is serious, there will be nine people recommended by my office. I will forward those nine names to the council for approval. The charter review commission would then set their guidelines. If you want to proceed, I will ask for council support for a resolution asking for a charter review commission. I would recommend no city employee, no elected officials, no member of a city board or commission and no business doing business with the city should serve on the review commission,” explained Mayor Domenick Mucci.

“Its a very time-consuming process where nine citizens sit in meetings and listen to testimony and discuss ideas. If this council is serious, the sooner you start the more time you have to take testimony,” added Mucci.

According to Law Director S. Gary Repella, a plan to return to a mayor form of government “would require signed petitions from city voters.”

“A mayor form of government would require the mayor, a service and safety director. A law director, treasurer and city auditor would have to be elected. That will mean approximately $154,000 in wages without counting in benefits,” cited 3rd Ward Councilman Greg Metcalf.

Metcalf said the 1992 charter review resulted in cosmetic changes. “You are talking about interviewing the mayor, council members, department heads as well as commission and board members. We have more serious problems right now we need to focus on. Our focus now should be on balancing the current budget and the 2014 and 2015 budgets.

“The 1992 charter review came about when Bruce Williams was city manager and he was involved in contract negotiations with the unions. There was a lot of chatter about removing the city manager then and there is chatter now,” said Metcalf.

“I disagree with Councilman Metcalf. It’s an educational process for the council. I am not trying to force this into an election. I agree there are more important issues. But we have lost our computer guy and our recreation director because they are scared of what may happen in the future. Maybe we can change the charter so we don’t have to hire a full-time recreation director,” said Councilman at large Kenny Davis.

In other business, council approved legislation Tuesday night authorizing the city manager to advertise bids for the city’s 2013 hot mix resurfacing program as well as the street seal program.

According to City Engineer Michael Dolak, the resurfacing program will include several streets in the West End including Cunningham Lane from Sunset Boulevard to Scenic Drive.

“We are also recommending Scenic Drive from Cunningham Lane to the north terminus, Westwood Drive from Cunningham Lane to Scenic Drive, Fellows Drive from Westwood Drive to the north terminus and Harvard Avenue from Lovers Lane to the east terminus,” Dolak told council members last week.

Dolak said the alternate street for the 2013 resurfacing program is St. Andrew’s Drive from the south terminus to Scioto Drive South.

City resident John J. Mascio questioned the street selection and cited the Spahn’s Addition area of Braybarton Boulevard as “impossible to drive without hitting a pothole.”

Council also approved a resolution recognizing March as Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month in the city.

And third and final readings were heard and approved for an increase in the city’s building permit fees and for an ordinance agreeing to a Housing Revolving Loan Fund Administration program with the Ohio Development Services Agency.

Council also heard from Mattie Patterson who again questioned why four part-time recreation aides were laid off but two part-time employees in the city health department were not laid off in accordance with the labor agreement with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 2015.

“My civil rights may have been violated. We have not been treated the same and the charter calls for all part-time and full-time employees to be treated the same,” Patterson told council members.

And, city resident Royal Mayo called for extended operating hours at the Martin Luther King Jr. Recreation Center.

“The kids are in school and by the time they get home, the center is closed. The hours need to be changed,” said Mayo.