Follansbee talks playground to be replaced, police hiring

FOLLANSBEE – City Council on Monday moved to remove a playground and seek bids for its replacement and discussed the feasibility of hiring another full-time police officer.

Council called for playground equipment at Mahan Playground on Main Street to be removed, saying it has become dangerous for children to use. Council members asked City Manager John DeStefano to get a quote from the Washington County business that provided the new playground set at Brooke Hills Park.

First Ward Councilman Vito “Skip” Cutrone said there are large splinters sticking out of its wood pieces that could harm a child and he wouldn’t allow his children, if they were young, to play on it.

He suggested wrapping police tape around it until new equipment can be secured, but some officials suggested that wouldn’t prevent children from playing on it.

Steve Meca, public works director, said his crews have repaired the equipment numerous times and there’s little that can be done for it now.

Concerns about the playground’s condition were voiced after DeStefano presented three quotes for new equipment. They included one for more than $100,000 that was ruled out, another for about $44,000 and a third for about $72,000 but that included a $20,000 grant through the business.

A few council members said the last bid appeared to include the most equipment for the price, but several expressed concern about the cost.

Resident Paul DiGiacinto, a member of the Brooke Hills Park board, recommended a Washington County business that supplied the park with new playground equipment in recent years for about $19,000.

DeStefano agreed to investigate.

In other business, Cutrone urged council to hire another full-time police officer. He said his business has been broken into twice within the last year and a half and his vehicle was broken into and vandalized recently.

Cutrone noted resident Denise Lombardi raised concerns earlier in the meeting about speeding, particularly by large trucks. He noted the city experiences heavy traffic between 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. on weekdays and such concerns could be addressed with an additional officer.

Cutrone, who was elected to council in June, noted council earlier had postponed replacing an officer who recently left and hired part-time officers from other departments to cut costs involved in providing benefits for a new officer.

“We need to find the money to hire another full-time officer. We need more protection in our city and particularly in our back streets,” he noted.

Police Chief John Schwertfeger said he’s asked to replace Tim Robertson, who left his full-time position as a city officer to become a Brooke County sheriff’s deputy but has continued to work part-time for the city.

Schwertfeger said a handful of officers from other departments work part-time for the city, putting in eight to 16 hours a week, but aren’t available when their full-time jobs demand their time.

He said hiring another officer would make it easier to schedule two officers per a shift.

The department currently employs four officers.

Second Ward Councilman Dave Secrist asked about the financial feasibility of hiring another officer.

DeStefano said he will have more specific information about the city’s financial picture at council’s Aug. 5 meeting. Asked about costs for another officer, he said the city pays its officers $42,000 to $52,000 per year, which includes an overtime shift scheduled for each.

In other business:

Council met in executive session to discuss a proposed land deal. Council took no action on the matter, and DeStefano said he couldn’t comment at this time.

In recent years city officials have been pursuing businesses to occupy land west and east of state Route 2 and purchased by the city from Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel Corp. The effort has led to the opening of the Rite Aid store and the Sheetz gas station and store.

Discussed efforts to alleviate flooding in the Blosser Lane area. DeStefano told Sharon Kowalik, a resident there, he and other city officials are awaiting word from the state Division of Highways. The area has received heavy runoff from the adjacent hillside and Allegheny Street.

Plans had been made for the city to create a 40-foot trench along the lane’s north side and the state to install another drain near Allegheny Street. But city officials are reluctant to move forward until the state does.

Heard from Boy Scout Jordan Harlan, who has earned the rank of Eagle Scout by overseeing the construction of six benches at the city pool. The benches are used at Follansbee Swim Team meets and pool patrons.