Council discusses long list of issues

STEUBENVILLE – City Council held a public hearing, three committee meetings and a brief sunshine meeting Tuesday night to discuss a long and varied list of issues, including proposed demolitions, upgrading the police department offices and an inspection program for rental housing.

The city’s planning and zoning commission has been reviewing proposed legislation that will require mandatory rental property inspections under certain conditions as well as an ordinance that will allow residents to limit future rental properties in their neighborhoods.

The planning commission has encouraged area landlords to attend the April 7 commission meeting to discuss the proposed ordinances.

Several local landlords attended the Tuesday night council meeting but did not speak on the issue.

“I see this as a tool. I can recall three or four cases where this ordinance would have been used. I don’t see it being used daily. A majority of landlords have addressed problems. There are a handful who have a problem. But that isn’t the norm,” said Urban Projects Director Chris Petrossi.

According to Petrossi the proposed ordinance calls for twice yearly interior and exterior inspections of a rental unit if two or more notices and orders to comply have been issued to the owner pursuant to the property maintenance code within any two-year period and have not been complied within the time provided.

“The second reason would be if the owner has been convicted of a violation of the property maintenance code or if the owner has had a premise ordered demolished. But if the property owner refuses access for our inspectors, we will have to get an administrative warrant,” said Petrossi.

Petrossi also told City Council members he is recommending rental property registration from every four years to an annual basis.

Second Ward Councilman Mike Johnson suggested the city require a crime-free addendum be included in all rental leases, “to make it easier to evict someone convicted of a crime.”

“I am not anti-landlord. I’m trying to be positive for our neighborhoods. This proposed legislation is about all property owners and will not apply to most property owners. They provide a valuable service to the community,” added Johnson.

In other business, Police Chief Bill McCafferty said he was not opposed to a police dog for his department.

“But, the canine officer will be paid overtime when the dog goes home. There is continued training and the handler has to keep records of the training. There are high program costs and the canine unit must have its own vehicle with air conditioning,” explained McCafferty.

“Selection of the dog handler is important. Contractual issues will have to be reviewed before the handler is selected. The selection can’t be based on seniority. The cost will be about $11,500 in addition to a patrolman’s salary,” said McCafferty.

Sixth Ward Councilman Bob Villamagna said he already has discussed the police dog with several officers, “and I know three guys who are interested in being the dog handler.”

McCafferty also updated council on drug arrests in the city.

“So far this year officers have made 35 drug arrests, not including marijuana, and 26 out of the 35 people arrested were noncity residents. We have responded to 2,353 total calls this year to date,” stated McCafferty.

He said in 1999 there were 57 people in the police department compared to 44 people in 2013.

He also questioned a proposal to lower the curfew for 13-18-year-old residents.

“Right now a 12- or 13-year-old can run the streets until midnight on the weekends. I am proposing a curfew modeled on the Hubbard, Ohio, curfew that has helped that city,” noted Johnson.

And, Villamagna warned a 13- or 14-year-old can kill someone.

“These kids are dangerous. A curfew is a serious commitment on the city’s part,” said Villamagna.

He renewed his call for several police department offices to be refurbished.

“There have been no improvements in these offices for years. It is very hard to work in a filthy office. When you have low morale you do the minimum work. I would like us to pledge to give these guys the tools they need to do their jobs. You can see through the ceiling, cold air is coming in and tile is gone from the floor,” said Villamagna.

“We have a cancer in the police department. The guys have dangerous jobs and we have to look out for the police officers,” remarked Villamagna.

“I have taken a tour of the police department offices and they are in pretty serious need of improvements. I have asked the chief to come back to the next safety committee meeting with an outline of priorities and the cost. We have $32,000 budgeted for the police department improvements but I also want to make sure you are aware of the steps we are taking. We have some serious challenges in our general fund. We have to weigh everything together. We need to prioritize,” City Manager Tim Boland told the council members.

Boland also said he would like to meet with the council members in executive session to review the 2012 Mavromatis report on recommendations for the police department.

Council heard from Kerry Zwierschke and Linda Aller of Bennett & Williams of Westerville who reviewed a proposed monitoring plan for the former Steubenville landfill located near the Jefferson County Airport.

Fourth Ward Councilwoman Angela Suggs introduced a resolution supporting a request for $950,000 from the state 2015 and 2016 capital budget for the Grand Theater restoration work.

Council met in executive session following the sunshine meeting to discuss pending litigation.