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City may test out new alert system

STEUBENVILLE — City leaders will try out an emergency alert system aimed at quickly getting word of outages and other emergencies to affected residents.

The system, AlertMedia, will allow the city to customize alerts and how they’re delivered, be it through the AlertMedia app, by text, email, voice or desktop.

Madison Phillips, senior account executive at AlertMedia, told council Tuesday the system is easy to use. The city will decide how and when to issue alerts, and only those residents who’ve signed up will get them.

“The main goal is to be able to quickly notify your people of any critical or emergency events,” she said, explaining the messages can easily be targeted to residents in a particular geographic area.

City Manager Jim Mavromatis said the cost is “very reasonable,” considering the service provided: The city will pay just $11,400 for one year’s messaging services.

“People can get (the) information immediately,” he added. “And the beauty of it all is we control it; the city controls it.”

Mavromatis said it’s a one-year contract, and if the service doesn’t fit Steubenville’s needs they can walk away.

Because the contract amount — under $12,000 — is well within procurement limits, no vote was required for Mavromatis to move forward with the project. Still, he asked council members for their thoughts.

“We’ve been trying to find (a solution) for the last couple years now, reverse-911 and other things,” 2nd Ward Councilman Craig Petrella said. “I think this is the way to go.”

“You know what’s really good about this? When you need to issue a boil order, this is perfect for it,” 5th Ward Councilman Willie Paul, chair of council’s finance committee, added. “I like it.”

Finance Director Dave Lewis, meanwhile, delivered his first financial briefing of the new year, telling council during a finance committee meeting the city had finished 2020 “very close to what we expected.”

“The city finished 2020 with a $870,000 general fund surplus,” he said. “When COVID started, the city immediately put the brakes on as much spending as possible, (saving) about $772,000. With all the cuts in spending, we were anticipating a $500,000 shortfall but the city received approximately $1.3 million in unexpected dividends/rebates, so we were able to end 2020 with the $870,000 surplus.”

The funding influx included $1.3 million in rebates from the state of Ohio.

He said income tax collections in January were up 14.21 percent, EMS collections are running close to projections and utility collections were down slightly.

“It’s early in the year, but that’s where the numbers are at this point,” he said. “Renewal of the two income tax levies (the 0.3 percent and the 0.5 percent) are key to stabilizing the city for the next five years.”

Paul and 6th Ward Councilman Bob Villamagna praised Lewis’s finance department for its work in keeping the city on budget, as well as Water Superintendent Jim Jenkin’s leadership in addressing and correcting water issues.

“You and Jim both led us out of that, you did a really good job,” Villamagna told Lewis. “It was a lot of work, but we were in a pretty good jam with those two things. We’ve got new water lines going in, new valves going in. You and Jim Jenkins have been working very hard to get us there.”

Mavromatis said department heads also deserve kudos for “managing and watching what we spend.”

Council also heard first readings of an ordinance that would rezone properties at 227 and 234 South Third Street – the former USW union hall and a building next to that once housed a barbershop – from a central business district to a general commercial and industrial district and authorized the Planning and Zoning Department to seek bids for the sale of a 2009 Dodge Durango.

An ordinance approving Jefferson Belmont Regional Solid Waste Authority’s solid waste management plan was passed on an emergency basis.

First Ward Councilwoman Asantewa Anyabwile told council she will introduce legislation at the March 16 meeting calling for the repeal of the existing open forum rules “and creating new ones.”

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