Apr 8, 2023
STEUBENVILLE — Phases 1 of the repairs and upgrades in the old city building will likely be funded out of the city’s cash carryover.
Fifth Ward Councilman Willie Paul said Tuesday they have enough in carryover to cover the repairs, though he wants to cap Phase I spending at $500,000.
That would leave the last $1.4 million from American Rescue Plan funds intact, ostensibly for recreation though no vote has been taken.
“We have the money,” Paul said. “Leave the ARPA money for recreation.”
Paul proposed targeting the highest priority projects — the evidence room, carving out a locker room for the city’s female police officers and restrooms upgrades, particularly in the women’s restroom where the pipes in the wall are exposed.
“I think everything you’re mentioning is a need we need to address,” Finance Director Dave Lewis said.
Municipal Judge John Mascio Jr. told council he’s willing to release $30,000 from his special projects fund to cover improvements to the Community Service office.
“We had four rooms we looked at,” Mascio said. “But the more I looked at it and thought about it …we don’t need to do anything at this stage with the room behind my office, or the probation office (but) we have to do something with that community service office, we’re getting a lot more foot traffic and we have some programs in place where we need to be compliant.”
Mascio said he can release the funds to the city, by court order, and designate they be used for the community services improvements, “and use any extra (for) the restrooms.”
“My suggestion would be that we put a $500,000 cap on Phase I (which) would be this first floor,” Councilwoman at large Kimberly Hahn said. “Some areas don’t need architectural and engineering drawings … What I would love to do if we could do it is specify $1 million for the building — $500,000 for Phase 1 and reserve $500,000 for Phase 2.”
Hahn suggested that for now they should just get the architectural work done for the first floor, but Third Ward Councilwoman Heather Hoover questioned if it wouldn’t make more sense to do all the technical work first.
“It just makes sense to me,” Hoover said. “When you get work done at home, you get an estimate for the entire job. Why not do all the planning and engineering now?”
“I’m not willing to commit more than $1 million to the project,” Hahn elaborated. “So, my thought would be if we do the engineering first, the architectural stuff we must do for this floor, we could make the decision to go ahead after that and have them do the drawings for upstairs, but then we could start on the projects down here.”
“I understand that, but I don’t like breaking it up,” a frustrated Hoover replied. “I can understand committing $500,000 downstairs and then moving upstairs. But I can’t wrap my head around why we’re not allowing them to go ahead and do all the planning at one time, then we have it — we’re not coming back here in a year and having the same conversation, saying ‘now we need planning’ again. I’m just asking for that — get all the planning for both floors and then commit the $500,000 for the first floor.”
Mascio suggested having the design work done for both floors, before deciding how much they want to spend “and if you want to do it in two phases, that’s fine. You’re not circumventing public bidding by doing it in two phases because you only have money right now for one phase. That, to me, makes sense.”
Paul reminded council they’ll also need to find money for a new roof on the downtown fire station.
“It’s a $100,000 project,” Fire Chief Carlo Capaldi said. “I can’t do anything else with the roof leaking so I want to button the roof up first, then going forward we can do other projects.”
Also Tuesday, Steubenville Visitor Center Executive Director Judy Bratten told council tourism continues to have a big impact Jefferson County.
In her annual report, Bratten said visitors “contributed a direct impact of $129 million in 2021 in Jefferson County” and visitor spending, visitor-supported jobs and business sales generated $29.9 million in government revenues. State and local taxes alone tallied $14.5 million in 2021, she said.
She said the Visitor Center went over budget in advertising and promotion in 2022 to take advantage of the renewed interest in travel and tourism, but they had enough funds reserved from previous years to cover the overrun.
“The lodging revenues for the year were lower than the previous year, although our own statistics showed a steady rate in visitation,” she said, explaining the lagging revenue is partly due to the changes in the local hotel-motel scene: Super 8 generated more than $40,000 a year in hotel-motel taxes before it closed in 2020, leaving the city with three hotels and one bed-and-breakfast, with competition from the three hotels in Weirton.
“But the newest competition is the proliferation of airB&Bs in the city and area,” she said. “There are more than 20 of these — some only have one room to rent while others offer an entire floor or house. And, none of these collect or pay lodging tax. Nor are they regulated for health and safety as the registered hotels and B&Bs are. This is an issue that all municipalities and counties are facing and the Ohio Association of Convention and Visitor’s Bureaus is attempting to address it. I encourage the council to look into it as well in order to protect the public and increase lodging revenues.”
She told council they hope lodging revenues in 2023 “will be at least as much as last year.”
Council, meanwhile voted down a proposed spending freeze for the city’s remaining federal American Rescue Plan Act funds.
Prior to the vote, Paul told Fourth Ward Councilman Royal Mayo, who’d sponsored the legislation, he couldn’t vote for it.
“I respect what (you) wanted to do on this but … that money will be there,” Paul said. “We’re not going to touch that money. We’re going to take the money for this building from another fund.”
First Ward Councilwoman Asantewa Anyabwile said saying the money will be there doesn’t mean it will be.
“What is so hard to commit the rest of this money to parks and recreation?” she said. “Just set it aside, instead of just saying it’s going to be there. If we’re really serious about our children we’re really serious about parks and recreation, why not commit the money?”
Hoover said she’d like to commit the money to parks and recreation, but point out they don’t have nearly enough money to cover Parks Director Lori Fetherolf’s list of needs.
“Let’s decide which projects we want to move forward with,” she said. “I’m for funding two of the projects, then see where we’re at. You can’t commit all of the money because you don’t know what obstacles you’re going to run into.”
Sixth Ward Councilmen Mike Hernon and Second Ward Councilman Tracy McManamon also made it clear they didn’t like the ARPA spending freeze.
“There wasn’t a conversation, think that’s what we have to have,” Hernon said. “We need to have simple agreements on one, two or three projects and go from there.”
McManamon said he “(didn’t) think it’s a very prudent way to conduct business.”
“I’m never going to agree to do recreation for one part of the city,” he said.
In other business, council:
• Rejected a zoning change at a Troy Drive property.
The owner, John Polverini, had proposed rezoning it from medium density residential district (R-2A) to high density residential district (R-3) to allow transitional housing for up to 11 homeless veterans. The Planning and Zoning Commission had recommended approval, despite opposition from neighboring property owners — two of whom appeared at council’s meeting to urge a “no” vote.
Resident Dave Coldonato said the Troy Drive community didn’t like the idea at all.
“We do agree there is some need for veteran assistance housing, we just don’t feel it should be in our neighborhood,” Coldonato said, pointing out it’s a dead-end street with children living there and visiting, elderly women who live alone “who would be pretty nervous.”
“The road is unimproved … the property has been sitting vacant for 17 years and they’ve done nothing with it. The person who owns the property now has owned it for two years and done nothing with it,” he said.
Another neighbor, Paul Cooper, told council it’s the location, not the project that’s got the neighborhood in an uproar, added “the guy has owned it two years and hasn’t done anything with it.”
The zoning change was rejected by a 7-0 vote.
• Signed off on the final reading of an ordinance authorizing City Manager Jim Mavromatis to convey two lots on South Street to the Jefferson County Port Authority to effectuate their sale to Schenerlein & Sligar.
• Approved emergency legislation authorizing Mavromatis and Urban Projects Director Chris Petrossi to seek proposals for professional/consulting services under the State of Ohio Community Housing Impact and Preservation Program for administration services; and authorizing the city to apply for an Appalachian Regional Commission Partnerships for Opportunity and Workforce and Economic Revitalization grant.
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