City OKs performance audit contract

STEUBENVILLE – City Council approved a $70,000 contract for the state auditor’s office to conduct a performance audit of the city’s Enterprise funds Tuesday night.

The decision came only after the legislation was amended to include language requiring the auditors to examine delinquent water accounts pulled from a collection agency and an examination of decisions issued by the city’s utilities delinquency review board.

Second Ward Councilman Mike Johnson threatened to vote against the measure unless the addendum was included in the ordinance.

Fourth Ward Councilwoman Angela Suggs cast the lone no vote against the performance audit saying the city is undergoing an annual $55,000 audit and she prefers to wait for that audit report to be issued before stating a separate audit.

“I’m going to hold my colleagues on council to implementing the recommendations from the performance audit,” said Suggs.

According to Jim Pyers, the senior performance project manager for the state auditor, the auditors will look at every policy and procedure every time someone touches the water or a bill.

“We are going to look at everything from the water at the filtration plant until it comes out at the end into the river. We will look at staffing and adequate compensation and what people are accomplishing on their jobs. We will look at staffing tiers and reasonable best practices. We will start the field work first and we will be updating the administration and council throughout the 10-month process. And finally we will make recommendations. If we find something that needs immediate attention we will notify you,” explained Pyers.

Pyers said the auditors will examine the water, waste water and refuse funds.

Johnson lobbied in favor of two addendums to the ordinance, “that will require all accounts pulled from Capital Recovery to determine the reasons the accounts were pulled as well as determine if the money associated with those accounts was collected. Statistical samples may be used.”

“The auditors will also examine the decisions issued by the utilities delinquency review board to determine if the decisions were based on ‘good cause’ as required by the federal consent decree,” added Johnson.

He said approximately 25 delinquent water accounts were pulled from Capital Recovery.

“I want the delinquent accounts checked. I don’t know how we got this problem but we have to solve it now,” noted 1st Ward Councilman Gerald DiLoreto.

Sixth Ward Councilman Bob Villamagna asked Pyers to also examine money spent on the new city hall building and the new water filtration plant on University Boulevard.

“I want to make sure the expenditures on those projects were legally authorized,” said Villamagna.

Council also continued discussions on a proposal to put water accounts in property owners names instead of allowing rental tenants to have the account in their name.

“We have had a law since 2001 that allowed the city to put the water accounts in the property owner’s name but we have never enforced that law,” said Johnson.

“I don’t see how we can make the landlords responsible for the tenants’ delinquent accounts,” said Councilman at large Kenny Davis.

“I have lived in communities where the landlords were held responsible for the tenants’ water bills. But we can’t make landlords responsible because of the federal consent decree we are under,” cited Utility Collection Office Manager Cindy McKay.

The proposal to make landlords responsible for tenants’ water bills met opposition from several of the landlords at Tuesday night’s marathon meeting, including Jerome Hagerty, who said the city, “is trying to put the burden on small businesses. It is a bad precedent when you attack a small business person.”

“I live in Wintersville but I pay taxes on my properties to Steubenville and I have a vested interest in this issue. Making the landlord responsible is putting a tremendous burden on the landlords. Why doesn’t the city turn the water off if the bill isn’t paid. If a tenant uses water and doesn’t pay for it then you need to come up with another plan,” stated Ruth Mularcik.

“The landlord can’t afford to pay for utilities. If you don’t carry through with the threat of shutting the water off then what is the answer? I beg you to not put the water over to the landlord,” remarked Mularcik.

City Council approved several ordinances Tuesday night, including a permanent budget for 2014 and an emergency contract for enhanced maintenance of Lovers Lane.

The city is prepared to pay Shelly & Sands Inc. of Rayland $138,860.30 for paving Lovers Lane from Sunset Boulevard to the Fort Steuben Mall Drive.

City Manager Tim Boland said the “enhanced maintenance” is designed to gain another two to three years of life for that section of the pothole-damaged street.

Boland said the city is hoping to do pothole repairs on the remainder of the roadway this year.

City Engineer Michael Dolak said he anticipates the paving work to start in April when the hot mix asphalt plants start operating, “and we are projecting a completion date of June 1.”

Dolak also said he is preparing for a public hearing to discuss proposed improvements for Lovers Lane.

The council action came after a letter was read from the president of the Steeple Chase residents association who questioned the effectiveness of City Council and administration in dealing with the potholes on Lovers Lane

Council approved the 2014 permanent budget that includes a reserve fund and then agreed to transfer $190,052.62 from the general fund into the reserve fund.

Council tabled an ordinance to transfer of $50,000 from the safety fund to the general fund for the demolition of dilapidated properties.

Also, council approved a third reading for an ordinance authorizing the city manager to advertise for bids for the city’s hot mix asphalt resurfacing 2014 project.

A second reading was heard for an ordinance authorizing the advertisement for bids for the 2014 Community Development Block Grant funded street improvement project and for the CDBG demolition of several dilapidated buildings.

And the first reading was heard for the advertisement for bids for the Buena Vista Boulevard water line upgrades and the purchase of a case excavator for the water department.

Resolutions declaring March as Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month. and supporting the development of U.S. Bike Route unanimously were approved.

Boland announced the city will buy five new police cruisers and three new unmarked cars for the police detectives.

DiLoreto announced biology professor Eric Hermi of Franciscan University of Steubenville will meet with council Tuesday to discuss a cleanup project in the creek in Beatty Park.

And, Davis reminded residents the Save Our Pool committee will hold a spaghetti dinner from noon to 5 p.m. Saturday at the American Legion Post 33 hall on North Fifth Street.

City resident Fred Walsh called for the city to consider using convict labor for cleaning up trash in the city.

“People may think twice about throwing trash into the front yard or alley when they see convicts working in their neighborhood,” said Walsh.