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City moving forward

Jim Mavromatis has faced a lot of challenges during the five years he has been Steubenville’s city manager, but he says there also are a lot of positive things happening in the community.

That’s the message he shared with members of the Steubenville Rotary Club during Wednesday’s meeting.

Rotary has been no different than any other club or organization that has had to make changes in how meetings are conducted because of all of the issues that have been brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Most in-person meetings stopped sometime in March, and since then, varying formats have been followed.

Some meetings have been switched to any of the several video platforms that are out there, some have gone to a hybrid format where some people have attended meetings and others joined over the Internet and some have just quit meeting, and that sadly, will make it difficult for them to resume activities later this year when we are finally able to put the coronavirus behind us.

A little disclosure is in order — I am president of the Steubenville Rotary. The club has been meeting over the Zoom platform twice a month since the fall. About 20 members were on hand to listen as Mavromatis offered a general update about the city, and the job he has held for the last five years.

“It’s hard to believe that five years has gone that fast, but when you do a lot of work, that time goes quickly,” he explained.

That period has included lawsuits and consent decrees involving the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, a bomb scare at the old Macy’s store in the Fort Steuben Mall and a water outage that left most of the downtown area without water service for a long period.

“There have been a lot of things this town has had to go through, and we have survived them and have moved on,” Mavromatis said.

That includes the pandemic.

“I hope we never see another 2020 again,” Mavromatis said. “Everybody has had to deal with this. It has affected every state and city, and yes, we have lost people.”

Mavromatis said that the city has been able to work through issues created by COVID-19, either by temporary adjustments in employment or through sickness.

“My biggest concern was whether we would still have a workforce,” he said. “Did I have employees who were affected? Absolutely. Were we able to continue our services? Absolutely.”

He said that by the end of the year, the city had been able to get back just about all of its positions and ended the year about $800,000 in the black. A big reason for that, he explained, was the $1 million that came back to the city in workers’ compensation savings.

That doesn’t mean the city will not have to monitor its finances closely, he said, adding that city employees covered under AFSCME had accepted a one-year moratorium on raises, and the city’s police officers and firefighters had agreed to forego raises in the first year of their three-year contract. The city is monitoring its finances and has been affected by a loss of revenue from the downturns suffered by small and larger businesses.

“We’ve been able to continue to offer services,” he said. “I don’t have to tell you what we have had to deal with during the past several days with the freeze and the snow. Our crews have been out there 24-7, and through our union negotiations, any CDL driver who works for the city is subject to call-out when we have a massive storm like that. It’s all hand on deck, and that’s what we need.”

The city, he said, is continuing to address infrastructure issues.

“Like it or not, we live in an old city,” Mavromatis said. “Just like people, your parts and body wear out and you either get them replaced, you get them mended or you deal with them, and that’s where we are as a city. We have a little more than 100 miles of water pipes in the city, and you can set your watch — every winter we have water line breaks, sometimes two or three in the same area. That’s why you set aside infrastructure money.”

Mavromatis added that city workers had to “open up their bag of tricks” to make the water from the Ohio River dirty enough to allow their equipment to function properly and produce enough potable water to meet the needs of residents and bring the recent conservation order to an end.

Infrastructure work during the next few years, he said, will include the installation of a water tank near the intersection of Lovers Lane and Coal Hill Road.

And, while nobody likes to pay higher rates, he said that when you break down the water bills most city residents receive — averaging between $143 and $169 a month — and consider that the total includes refuse and infrastructure fees, it works out to less than a cup of coffee each day.

Crime is generally down, he added, with the city’s arrests for 2020 standing at 1,051, down from the 1,426 recorded in 2019, according to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports, Mavromatis explained.

While Steubenville has seen some rough stretches, there have, overall, been many positive things happening during his time on the job, and that led to members of City Council extending his contract for two years, meaning he will be on the job until March 28, 2023.

It will take work on the part of all city residents to keep things moving forward — he asked that members of the community continue to support small local businesses, many of which have been hit hard in the past year. But, he added, the future does look to be brighter.

“Look at the positive things,” Mavromatis said. “Look at what’s happening on University Boulevard and look at what they are trying to do at the mall. We have a lot of business people who are going to help make this community better.”

(Gallabrese, a resident of Steubenville, is executive editor of the Herald-Star and The Weirton Daily Times.)

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