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Steubenville City Council advances pest-control measure

STEUBENVILLE — City Council is looking for a way to force homeowners to keep their properties pest-free.

The concerns arise as council considers renewing its public health services agreement with the Jefferson County General Health District, which has been under contract to provide health services for city residents since a 2017 merger.

A first reading of that ordinance was heard Tuesday.

“If there’s no current requirement that people keep their homes infestation-free, we need to start requiring it,” 4th Ward Councilman Scott Dressel said Wednesday. “We’re not talking about a roach or two, we’re talking about infestations where there are thousands of (pests).”

City Manager Jim Mavromatis has said county health officials as well as former city employees insist they’ve never done the kind of in-home inspections Dressel and other council members want done. He also said state officials indicated it’s “a very gray area” in terms of enforcement.

“I don’t know where you got that information. They inspected multiple times for me,” a clearly frustrated Dressel said at Tuesday’s week’s council meeting.

“I got it from the head of the health department. I would say they would know,” Mavromatis replied.

Mavromatis said health department officials told him they will not go in a residence and inspect, though they can and will look at the exterior.

Sixth Ward Councilman Bob Villamagna said if a complaint is lodged, “I don’t understand why they’re not doing that much.”

“They do not go inside the residence,” he said. “I specifically asked them that.”

Second Ward Councilman Craig Petrella asked if there’s nothing on the books, “can’t we develop an ordinance to address this issue?”

“The short answer is yes, you can always address it by ordinance,” Mavromatis said. “That’s the job of our attorney to do, I have no problem asking Costa (City Attorney Costa Mastros) to do it. But you’ve got to be very cautious going down that road, because we’re already in litigation over another ordinance that was done.”

“I agree wholeheartedly with that,” Petrella replied. “But it seems to be a growing problem and we, as city leaders, need to address it. Our law director needs to research what we can do and give us a recommendation of what we can do…if it has to include an amendment or addendum to our health contract with the county, then I think it needs to be done. It’s clear several council members have concerns about this, so let Costa do his magic, let him research this so we’re on terra firma and make sure (it’s taken care of). If we have to make an addendum to the contract, so be it. When it comes to a health issue, it’s unacceptable to me (to do nothing).”

Dressel said the city can’t tell people how to live, “but if it’s bad enough that it’s endangering a child or neighbors, something should be done about it.”

“Maybe it’s as simple as a ‘cleanup’ order,” he said. “Or maybe you declare it uninhabitable, because properties (in that condition) typically have many issues, not just bugs.”

He said extreme cases may not be an everyday occurrence, “but something needs to happen.”

Third Ward Councilman Eric Timmons also asked police to ensure vehicles with expired plates and registrations be towed, particularly in the LaBelle neighborhood where parking is at a premium.

Mavromatis also told Timmons “there is a project being worked on, rebuilding dugouts, based on grants” and money in the budget already after Timmons told council he’d had a call from a concerned parent.

First Ward Councilwoman Asantewa Anyabwile asked Mavromatis to find out if a reminder about the two free bulk pickups sanitation customers are entitled to each year can be printed on bills. Dressel also suggested posting a similar notice on the sanitation department’s website.

Councilwoman at large Kimberly Hahn reported problems at the splash pad have been fixed and it is now open for kids to enjoy. She also said the governor reversed an earlier decision involving indoor recreation, so beginning July 6 basketball will be permitted at MLK Recreation Center. Basketballs cannot be provided by the center, however.

Council also scheduled a public hearing on the city’s 2021 tax budget for 7:30 p.m. July 14.

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