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Council to consider emergency legislation

STEUBENVILLE – Members of City Council will consider emergency legislation at its Jan. 19 meeting that would give Steubenville Fire Chief Carlo Capaldi the power to hire three more firefighters, enough to run a second ambulance.

Capaldi told council he needs the additional personnel to relieve the strain on his department: They’ve been averaging nine to 10 calls a day with one ambulance, he said, pointing out that’s without adding any additional personnel.

He said it could take up to six months for the revenue to really start to roll in, but they’ve already banked about $46,000.

“The problem we’re having now is we can’t wait six months for more people,” Capaldi said. “We projected generating $715,000 in EMS revenue that (would) pay for six people to work on ambulances, but we didn’t hire those people right away because we didn’t have a track record to be sure the money would come in at that (precise) moment.”

“Increasing the number of firefighters from 18 to 21 “will increase staffing, the rotation available on the ambulance, and reduce overtime,” he said, adding, “The biggest thing is staffing. If you can’t keep staff, it’s not going to last long.”

Capaldi pointed out federal CARES Act dollars, not city funds, were used to purchase and equip two ambulances and keep a third in reserve.

“What we’re doing is paying for the fire department and getting an ambulance as a bonus,” he said, pointing out the three new positions will give them the bare bones staff they need to run the service until the next SAFER grant – Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response — opens up.

The city applied for SAFER funding in 2019 but was turned down.

Sixth Ward Councilman Bob Villamagna said council doesn’t really have a choice.

“If you want it to be a success, we have to do it,” he said.

“It’s a no brainer,” agreed 5th Ward Councilman Willie Paul, chair of council’s finance committee.

Capaldi pointed out other departments are currently handling three or four calls a day for Steubenville. With two ambulances he said they’d expect to pick up most but not all of those calls, “since some of them will come in at the same time.”

Third Ward Councilman Eric Timmons asked Capaldi if, once the coronavirus pandemic is controlled, the numbers would still support running a second ambulance.

“I’m going to tell you right now, it’s a normal day in the life of Steubenville,” Capaldi replied. “If it’s not COVID, it will be something else. Not only could we pick up more calls, but we could pick up more revenue.”

“It’s important that we put additional staffing in place now to expand the number of EMS-certified firefighters in the rotation for the ambulances,” he added. “The additional staffing will also help to reduce overtime costs within the department.”

Council, meanwhile, told Timmons that while they’re willing to at least consider hiring an animal control officer, that discussion will have to wait at least 180 days so they have a truer picture of city finances.

“We’ve all had calls about dogs, calls about raccoons … I just think it’s time we hire somebody,” Timmons had said. “I don’t know why we haven’t, if there’s a reason behind it, but I really think it’s time to get this moving.”

“I believe its a good idea to do that, but I also believe what (City Manager Jim Mavromatis) says, the next 180 days are critical,” Villamagna said. “I’m 100 percent for hiring a guy, but I want to make sure we have the money to do it.”

Council also deferred action on Utilities Director Chuck Murphy’s request to hire an assistant superintendent and leave a chief operator position currently in the table of organization unfilled.

“I’m due to retire in a little more than five years,” Murphy said. “It would allow us to get someone in, get them up to speed and familiar with our system.”

Murphy said he “definitely needs the help, but it makes more sense that it comes in the form of an assistant superintendent than a chief operator.”

Villamagna said he favored “hiring a chief operator and not creating this other position.”

“We just talked about watching our finances and waiting 180 days” to consider adding an animal control officer, Timmons agreed. “This is another thing we should look at in the same way.”

Scott Cramer, the new union president, made it clear he doesn’t like the idea of creating a new position.

“It’s always been the chief operator moving up,” he said, telling Villamagna he’s confident the position could be filled from within.

Council also figures to have the first of two police K-9 units in place by spring. The city already earmarked $20,000 for one dog, and the Teramana family has donated funds for a second.

“The classes start at the end of March, early April, for the new dog,” Paul said. “Four dogs are available (now), they match the dogs to your personality. We have to pay $1,000 to be assured we’ll get in this class.”

Meanwhile, he said they’re looking into the cost of retrofitting an SUV to accommodate the second K-9.

“Getting a second dog may take until summer,” he said.

Council also approved the appointments of Lorrie A. Sullivan to the library board; and Alan Hall and Renita Lavendar to the Jefferson County Port Authority Board of Directors.

Mavromatis, meanwhile, reported 198 people took advantage of the Jan. 7 pop-up COVID-19 testings at the Fort Steuben Mall. Of the 166 results that have come in, he said 16 had tested positive, though he doesn’t know yet if those individuals were asymptomatic.

“We didn’t have enough time,” he lamented. “The hours were 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., people were working. Most of the people who showed up were 50, 60, 70 years old … in talking to them, most of them had had out-of-state visitors and wanted to be sure they weren’t infected.”

Mavromatis requested an executive session after next week’s public session to discuss the proposed contract for the city’s AFSCME employees.

“We’re on the clock now,” he said, “We have 30 days (to) make a decision, one way or the other.”

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