City may issue $30M in bonds

STEUBENVILLE – City Council will meet at 6 p.m. Tuesday to discuss the possibility of issuing up to $30 million in general obligation bonds during the next three years to help pay for a dilapidated housing demolition program, water department improvements and Ohio Environmental Protection Agency-mandated upgrades at the wastewater plant.

“Our only way to go forward is to go out for a bond issuance. As of now, we have a looming deficit in 2016 and a $30 million project in the wastewater department,” explained Finance Director Stacy Williams.

Amanda Gordon, the city’s bond counsel with Roetzel & Andress of Columbus, said the city’s improved bond rating, “is fantastic.”

Williams said she would like to borrow $9 million this year and $10 million in 2015 and in 2016.

But at least three council members expressed concerns about the plans to issue the general obligation bonds, and 3rd Ward Councilman and Finance Committee Chairman Greg Metcalf called for the 6 p.m. meeting Tuesday.

“We also need to talk about if we want to place a levy on the ballot or increase our municipal income tax rate,” said Metcalf.

“We already owe $10 million. We can’t borrow, borrow and borrow or our bond rating will go down. We are facing a future substantial deficit. But, somehow, we can float millions of dollars in bonds. We have two funds going broke, but if we get these bonds we won’t go broke until 2018,” said 2nd Ward Councilman Mike Johnson.

“Our sewer fund is still struggling but this is a way to sustain the debt,” responded Williams.

“My biggest concern at this point is the interest rate. We need to sunshine appropriate legislation next week and be ready to go. The longer we wait, the problems won’t go away and the interest rates will go up. I fear if we take a more measured approach over several years we may have problems. Logistically, we are ready to move forward now,” said City Manager Tim Boland.

“We haven’t done anything, but we have to do something. If our infrastructure doesn’t get improved now it never will. It is a scary thought but it is necessary to move forward,” noted Councilman at large Kenny Davis.

“What do we want to come out in the end? What are our priorities? What do we want our legacy to be? I would feel terrible if a future council is sitting here and facing the same problem,” remarked 4th Ward Councilwoman Angela Kirtdoll.

“I don’t want a future council asking who ran this city into the ground,” replied 6th Ward Councilman Bob Villamagna.

And, 1st Ward Councilman Gerald DiLoreto said he was old school and doesn’t believe in borrowing to get out of debt.”

Williams reported the city income tax has collected $16,000 more that it had during the same period last year.

In other business Tuesday, Steubenville contractor Jim Saltsman questioned the process used to determine what company will do repair work at the Belleview Clubhouse.

“We were told verbally what repairs were needed, but were never given a paper with a list of the project items. How do we know we were all dealing with the same items? And then I read in the paper the bid was awarded to the Cattrell Cos.? That’s not how we do bids in the city,” said Saltsman.

Boland said he will meet with Recreation Director Mary Beth Sills regarding the project and will meet with Saltsman.

Council agreed to proceed with an audio and recording system for the council chambers and municipal court.

Williams said she has three different bids for the system and will make a determination on who will receive the bid by next week.

Maintenance and Repair Superintendent Bob Baird reported he currently has seven vacancies in his department.

“We would like to fill the vacancies with current city employees or through the Civil Service Commission qualified applicants,” explained Baird.

Williams updated council members on a proposed cell phone policy, and said she will recommend the city use Verizon for employee cell phones.

“The cell phones will be assigned by the city manager, probably to department heads and to other employees the manager feels should have a city cell phone,” Williams said.

“I will want to know who has a city cell phone,” noted DiLoreto.

During the regular meeting, council approved the final reading of legislation giving Boland a 3 percent pay raise by a six to one vote. Villamagna voted against the ordinance.

An ordinance was approved on a third reading declaring several houses in the city to be public nuisances and scheduling them for demolition.

Council heard second readings for several ordinances including:

Legislation authorizing guidelines for the water reserve fund;

An ordinance amending the rules and regulations for the Utility Department; and,

Legislation authorizing the city to file an application with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for a grant.

Members heard first readings for the Sunset Boulevard and Lovers Lane intersection widening project as well as;

An ordinance amending the parking code for the city’s central business district; and,

Legislation amending the city’s zoning code.

City business owner Tony Corella thanked council for hiring a parking enforcement officer.

“Things seem to be happening in downtown Steubenville. We still have work to do, but we are making progress,” said Corella.

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