Water, Lovers Lane on city slate

STEUBENVILLE – City Council is preparing to discuss making property owners responsible for water customer bills and will consider measures to streamline the delinquent water bill collection process at 6 p.m. Tuesday prior to the regular council meeting.

City Manager Tim Boland said he will be ready to discuss, “how to tighten up the collection process.”

It was the final decision Tuesday night during a nearly four-hour marathon series of council committee meetings and sunshine meeting that saw 14 ordinances and resolutions introduced and a change in council procedures to allow public comment at the sunshine meetings.

The public forum was limited to regular council meetings for years but 6th Ward Councilman Bob Villamagna lobbied his colleagues to change the past procedure and allow public input at the conclusion of sunshine meetings.

City business owner Mark Nelson used the new opportunity to speak under the new rules and asked city officials to consider performing dilapidated structure demolitions with city employees.

He also questioned the cost of the summer free lunch program administered by the city recreation department, the city’s plan to financially support the Jefferson County Port Authority and who will pay for the large commercial water meter replacement program.

Boland said he is reluctant to have city employees do demolition work.

Councilman at large Kenny Davis said the free summer lunch program is paid for with a federal grant, “and if we didn’t offer the lunch program, some of these kids would not eat that day. If someone else is getting a free lunch that’s OK.”

Jefferson County Commissioners Dave Maple and Tom Gentile came to the council meeting at the invitation of Villamagna but left after they were told by 3rd Ward Councilman Greg Metcalf the city manager and mayor would schedule a special meeting with the commissioners to discuss funding for the port authority.

Council held extensive discussions on the 2014 budget including transferring $50,000 from the safety fund to the general fund for demolitions outside of the Community Development Block Grant funded areas of the city.

“Don’t make a habit of using the safety fund for everything,” warned 1st Ward Councilman Gerald DiLoreto.

Villamagna urged the city administration to consider using safety fund money for upgrades to the police department offices.

“The detective offices are an embarrassment and the dispatcher area needs work. We have to do something about the condition of the police department,” said Villamagna.

“It struck me when I toured the police department offices that it is such a large task, we need to decide what needs to be done first. We need to work on short-term stuff and get our arms around the long-term issues,” said Boland.

“We also need to paint the downtown curbs, put the signs and arrows on the street and clean up the downtown,” noted Villamagna.

City Engineer Mike Dolak announced he has awarded a bid for grinding and paving Lovers Lane from Princeton Avenue to the Fort Steuben Mall Drive to Shelly & Sands Inc. of Rayland for $136,000.

“We are going to try and squeeze those dollars so we have money for patching Lovers Lane from Sinclair Avenue to the Fort Steuben Mall Drive. We know this road is in bad shape and we have long-term plans to rebuild the road properly, but we are also trying to address the road condition issues this year. This is not a permanent fix. We can’t do a major fix on Lovers Lane because we don’t have the money for that,” Dolak explained.

Boland said the enhanced maintenance “should get us another two to three years and allow us to get control. The road is getting away from us. Yes, it needs a total reconstruction but we have to take it in phases.”

Dolak said he is hoping to have the paving on Lovers Lane completed in June.

Boland reported he is narrowing the list of applicants for the city finance director position.

Finance Director Alyssa Kerker submitted her resignation and is working part time until a new director is in place.

Boland also said he plans to hire an office manager for the utility collection office but does not plan to move anyone out of the office until a performance audit is completed.

Dolak reviewed the water system improvement for the next several years including the Buena Vista Boulevard Extension water line replacement project and the Harvard Avenue upgrade scheduled for this year.

According to Dolak, upgrades in 2015 include Lauretta Drive and St. Charles Drive as well as Aberdeen and Bryden roads and East Carlton.

In other business, council members heard an update from representatives of the Neptune Technology Group who reported half of the city’s large commercial water customers have had their water meters replaced and approximately 75 more meters are scheduled for replacement.

“We are trying to set up appointments with these large commercial water customers in order to replace their meters as soon as possible,” said Ray Schwarz of Neptune.

During the sunshine meeting Davis introduced an emergency ordinance authorizing the city manager to sign a $70,000 contract with the state auditor’s office for a performance audit of the city’s enterprise funds.

Davis also proposed the adoption of an indirect cost allocation plan for the city as well as a resolution declaring March as Developmental Disabilities Month and a resolution supporting the United States bike trial.

An ordinance authorizing the city manager to advertise for bids for the Buena Vista Boulevard Extension water line upgrade was introduced by DiLoreto.

Second Ward Councilman Mike Johnson proposed the establishment of a financial reserve fund and the transfer of $190,000 from the general fund to the reserve fund.

And Metcalf introduced several ordinances, including an ordinance for the enhanced maintenance of Lovers Lane and:

– Setting vacation and holiday pay language for new nonunion city employees to mirror the language in the police and firefighter contracts.

– Enacting a new employee table of organization.

– Transferring $50,000 from the city safety fund to the general fund for demolition work.

– Approval of a permanent revenue tax budget and budget appropriations for 2014.

– Authorization to purchase a new excavator for the water department.

Council met in executive session following the sunshine meeting to discuss discipline for a city employee.