Follansbee discuss police replacement

FOLLANSBEE – The replacement of a police officer and equipment at Mahan Playground and the formation of a committee to address overgrown grass and other issues were discussed by City Council on Monday.

First Ward Councilman Vito “Skip” Cutrone again moved to fill a vacancy in the city’s police department.

The motion failed to receive support, but Mayor David Velegol Jr. said he would call a special meeting in the next two weeks to discuss it.

Council hasn’t filled a vacancy since City Manager John DeStefano and council cut the police department by $100,000, citing concern about a decline in revenue from the local steel industry.

But Cutrone said he believes the city can afford to hire a sixth full-time officer. He said the city has spent money on other things that also are deserving but not as important as police protection.

“I think safety is the most important issue in our city right now,” he said. “We’re not going to have people moving into our city if we don’t take care of safety in our streets.”

Cutrone said city officials should ensure business and occupation taxes are being collected from every business and contractor operating in the city. He’d asked earlier for a list of businesses that are delinquent in B&O taxes.

But City Attorney Michael Gaudio said, following the meeting, that information isn’t available to council members or the public. He said though residents who are delinquent in payment of county property taxes may be printed in local newspapers, information about income tax is confidential.

City Manager John DeStefano said there aren’t many businesses that are delinquent in paying taxes, and many of them make up for it in future payments.

City Police Chief John Schwertfeger, who supports hiring another officer, said employing officers from other law enforcement agencies on a part-time basis has helped to fill the void.

But Second Ward Councilman Dave Secrist noted the officers’ full-time positions must take precedent over their work in Follansbee.

Schwertfeger said some council members have made overtime by city officers an issue when it’s not. He said following the departure several years ago of another city officer, each of the other officers has worked one overtime shift a week.

He said the move was intended to save the city money because it wouldn’t have to pay the salary and benefits of another officer.

In other business, DeStefano opened bids for new playground equipment at Mahan Playground on Main Street. The bids, which were for equipment of various sizes, their installation and a wood chip base, were: $29,248 from Park and Play Structures of Butler, Pa.; $23,628 from Taylor Sports and Recreation of South Charleston, W.Va.: and $34,051 from Cunningham Recreation of Charlotte, N.C.

The proposals received mixed reactions from council members.

Secrist said he supports installing the new playground equipment but can’t justify the cost.

“If we can’t come up with money for a police officer, how can we spend that on playground equipment,” he said.

Velegol said council “needs to sort out the police issue” before moving forward with the playground.

The old playground set was removed after it was deemed unsafe. But Secrist, 4th Ward Councilwoman Iris Ferrell and 5th Ward Councilman Tom Ludewig said posts left behind also present a hazard to children.

Council also made plans to meet at 6 p.m. before its Oct. 14 regular meeting to form a beatification committee and identify areas where improvement is needed. The group was suggested by Velegol.

He said the city may employ a person through much of the year to cut grass on private property, a recurring complaint from residents, but the property owners will be charged for the service, as they are now.

A city ordinance against high grass authorizes the city to notify property owners of the violation and if they fail to act, have the grass cut and charge for the work. Officials may place a lien on the property if needed to recoup the cost.