City eyes hearing on liquor permit

STEUBENVILLE – City Council will ask the Ohio Department of Liquor Control to hold a hearing on a liquor permit request filed with the state agency by Derek Smith of Steubenville.

Police Chief Bill McCafferty told council members Tuesday night he already has filed an objection to the permit request citing, “Smith’s felony record and a nuisance abatement complaint the city filed against Smith’s Club 106 on South Street.

Club 106 has been closed since January when attorneys representing the city and Smith reached an agreement in Jefferson County Common Pleas Court.

The city had filed a nuisance action against the club in October 2013.

In other business during a planning committee meeting, council members discussed the feasibility of issuing a bond to obtain financing for a major demolition program in the city.

Urban Projects Director Chris Petrossi reported he anticipates 12 of 17 dilapidated properties will be demolished this year with Community Development Block Grant funds, and additional structures will be taken down using general fund money.

“It basically costs about $10,000 to demolish a house. We are waiting for an asbestos inspection on several structures to be completed. I hope we will have legislation for consideration next month for non CDBG properties. We will put those properties out for bid and see where we are at with the money,” said Petrossi.

“Columbus has invested $11.5 million over a four-year period for demolitions in distressed neighborhoods. In the past Columbus has used the same federal and state funding we have used, but this time they are using $11.5 million in bond funding to make a positive impact in the neighborhoods,” continued Petrossi.

Petrossi said the city currently has 72 properties on the demolition list, “but that number continues to rise.”

“The city borrowed money in the past for an expanded demolition program. We can look at our special assessment fund to see what we can borrow,” noted Finance Department consultant Alyssa Kerker.

“If we did a $1 million bond we could knock down 100 houses. Interest rates right now are at a low number. If we knock down 100 dilapidated houses it would have a major impact in our neighborhoods. It would be a great way to improve our neighborhoods,” remarked 2nd Ward Councilman Mike Johnson.

McCafferty reported Code Enforcement Office Shawn Scott and Building Inspector Anthony Bodo are canvassing neighborhoods on LaBelle and Pleasant Heights on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

“Officer Scott is inspecting properties for litter, weeds, abandoned vehicles and parking problems. Mr. Bodo is looking at property maintenance code violations. As of May 8 the two city officials visited 20 properties and issued 19 warnings and one citation. There were 14 property owners who complied with the city code without a citation,” said McCafferty.

Boland said he and McCafferty are meeting with representatives of the Hilltop Community Development Corp.

“I hope to hold future meetings in the LaBelle and Pleasant Heights neighborhoods. Have sort of a townhall meeting,” Boland said.

Johnson said he has received several positive telephone calls from Pleasant Heights residents who have noticed increased police patrols in their neighborhoods.

Petrossi reported the initial Comprehensive Plan Implementation Committee meeting “was well attended. and we are inviting all interested city residents to attend our next meeting at 9 a.m. on June 4 at the Historic Fort Steuben Visitors Center.”

Council also discussed a National Armory shooting range tentatively proposed for property on University Boulevard.

“I have been contacted by Franciscan University of Steubenville officials several times and they are very concerned about a shooting range close to their campus. I would love to see a shooting range in Steubenville but not at that site,” said 4th Ward Councilwoman Angela Suggs.

“National Armory is a national and responsible company. I support the university. But the university did not purchase that property. It is the owner’s right to develop his property. I really have a problem trying to stop this,” responded 6th Ward Councilman Bob Villamagna.

According to Petrossi, National Armory has submitted a pre-application with conceptual plans.

“We had a pre-application meeting that allowed company representatives to ask us questions,” Petrossi explained.

Suggs also asked her colleagues to consider participating in a weekend retreat, “to continue discuss goals for the city and the new comprehensive plan and to look at how we are going to manage change, because our city is changing.”

During a finance committee meeting Tuesday night, Boland reported the city income tax revenue “was up in March but a little soft in April. We are watching those numbers very carefully but overall we are still ahead of the same time last year.”

Law Director S. Gary Repella also told council members Ohio Senate Bill 5 is still in the state Legislature and can still affect the city in the future.

“Senate Bill 5 would require all municipal taxes to be collected by the state, which could mean a 5 to 10 percent cut in our revenue. The state would charge more to collect the taxes than we currently pay to the Regional Income Tax Agency. And the state could delay paying the city their taxes for five to six months. This is the same state administration that cut Local Government Funding for communities,” cited Repella.

In other matters, Boland asked council to consider a change in the city’s vacation policy to allow for nonunion city employees to receive a vacation before they have one year on the job.

“Our current vacation policy has been a hindrance to attract employees to the city,” said Boland.

He also said the city’s water fund is projecting a deficit in 2014 but should break even in 2015, while the wastewater fund “is facing some challenges because of EPA mandates.”

During the regular meeting, council approved a third and final reading authorizing the city manager to advertise for design build services for the municipal court and police building and;

A second reading for legislation adopting a tax budget for 2015.

First readings for legislation regarding rental property fees and inspections and an ordinance that will allow neighborhood residents to pursue the creation of conservation districts limiting future rental properties.

Approved an emergency ordinance amending the city employee table of organization.

Passed a resolution recognizing the Steubenville High School wrestling team for its recent accomplishments.

Suggs announced she is accepting donations for the annual T-shirt program for graduating seniors at Steubenville High School and Catholic Central High School.

“This program was started by former 6th Ward Councilman David Lalich and includes the phrase, ‘Steubenville – Where you always have a home’. Anyone who would like to donate to the T-shirt program can send the money to the City Council clerk or to Mark Nelson at Nelson Fine Art and Gifts where the T-shirts are produced,” Suggs said.

(Gossett can be contacted at dgossett@heraldstaronline.com.)