FEMA buyouts focus in Wellsburg

WELLSBURG – Four buildings slated to be demolished as part of the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s buyout program and a request to raise the police chief’s salary were among issues before Wellsburg Council Tuesday.

Mayor Sue Simonetti said four structures on Charles Street will be demolished through the FEMA buyout program. The four are at 319, Rear 524, 534 and 541 Charles streets.

Through the program, FEMA pays residents in flood-prone areas the market value for their homes to help them relocate.

Businesses also are eligible in some cases.

Simonetti said five other structures may follow.

Last year officials announced $458,261, including $152,755 in state funds, had been allocated for the removal of 10 buildings in the city’s floodplain.

It’s not clear why one was dropped. Property owners do have the right to refuse FEMA’s offer.

City Manager Mark Henne noted it has been three years since FEMA officials met with property owners to discuss the program. Many attending the public meeting had suffered damages during the 2004 flood.

Simonetti noted once the buildings are removed, deeds for the properties will revert to the city, but no new buildings may be constructed on them.

Instead, the lots may be used for parks or parking lots, she said.

First Ward Councilman Mike Mitchell said he would like to see the cut limestone used for the foundation of many of the buildings salvaged in some way.

Simonetti said that’s looking into it but added contractors who bid on the demolitions may have the right to salvage material from the sites unless the city itself bids on the demolitions.

No action was taken on the matter Tuesday.

In other business, City Police Chief Stanley Kins asked council to consider raising the police chief’s salary, which is $30,000.

Council referred the request to its next finance committee meeting at 6 p.m. April 23 and didn’t comment on the request.

Kins said he is the city’s lowest paid supervisor, making $14.43 per hour while other supervisors make $16.22 per hour, and he makes less than the starting wage set for new patrolmen in his department, which is $14.47 per hour.

“I don’t want anything more than anybody else. I think I should be paid the same as other supervisors,” said Kins, who has served as police chief 18 years.

Because the police chief is an elected position, the raise may not go into effect until 2015, when the office will be up for election.

Last year council approved raises for the city’s collector-treasurer, city clerk and its own members, effective after each’s current term. A raise for the police chief was considered but dropped, some city officials said, because the chief had received a raise more recently than the others.

Also on Wednesday:

Council discussed which city official should be responsible for preparing agendas for council and committee meeetings.

Simonetti said she has prepared agendas for the council meetings but believes it’s not the mayor’s responsibility and shouldn’t be passed on to whomever succeeds her.

She said she believes that should fall to the city clerk.

City Solicitor Bill Cipriani said nowhere in the city charter or code does it assign that responsibility specifically. He said the charter states the city clerk “shall be clerk of council and all of the committees thereof; have charge of all the records and archives, make out an assessment book from the books of the assessor of Brooke County and perform such other duties pertaining to his office as the council may prescribe.”

City ordinances also charge the city clerk with keeping minutes for council and committee meetings, maintaining the city’s ordinance book and conducting the city’s elections.

City Clerk Mary Blum said preparing the agendas never has been her responsibility, though she did it when the previous mayor was serving as acting city manager at his request.

Henne and Simonetti said preparing the agendas involves not only typing them but also seeing that they are hand-delivered to members. Simonetti said Blum has seen that the agendas are distributed.

Cipriani said if the issue is who should type the agenda, that should fall to Henne, as the city’s chief executive officer, who may designate a staff member.

Following the meeting, Cipriani was asked if the city is required legally to hand-deliver the agendas and if they may be e-mailed. He said the city must post the agendas at City Hall for the public’s review but he doesn’t believe it’s required to hand-deliver them, though it’s been the city’s practice.

Council agreed chairmen of the city’s five committees should be responsible for their agendas, as has been done often in the past.

Second Ward Councilman Paul T. Billiard said council needs to clarify for city police streets in which children may play in keeping with with the city’s “play street” ordinance.

He said many residents don’t have large backyards or don’t want their younger children to go to city parks alone, so it’s necessary for them to play basketball and other games on streets in residential areas.

It was noted signs have been posted on several streets to alert drivers that children are at play.

Council accepted a bid of $3,800 from Gil Thermes Fencing of Wintersville to repair the batting cage at the Betty Carr Recreation Site.