STEUBENVILLE — Jefferson County commissioners will give the city of Steubenville a temporary easement at Pico Park so crews can address issues threatening the storm sewer lines in the Hollywood Boulevard area.
The contractor, James White Construction Co. of Weirton, will have to cross the park to get into the catch basin, Steubenville Utility Director Chuck Murphy said.
“We need to go ahead and address it to prevent it from occurring again and so we don’t lose Hollywood Boulevard.”
City officials have said storm sewer pipe failures are causing erosion, which could cause the lines to collapse and pose a hazard to Hollywood Boulevard.
Murphy told commissioners once crews are on site the work, which includes grading ditches and some manhole work, should only take about three weeks to complete.
County Engineer Jim Branagan assured commissioners the work area is no where near the playground equipment. “It’s by itself, an open space,” he said.
“We probably ought to do an easement on this, that way they don’t have to keep running to you every tie they have another problem with breaks or something,” Branagan said.
Commissioner Dave Maple suggested they consider signing ownership of that piece of the park property over to the city.
“You’re talking a really, really small sliver of land,” he said.
For the time being, at least, commissioners said they’ll get a temporary easement drafted.
Commissioners, meanwhile, distributed recreation grants to communities throughout Jefferson County, including; Rayland, $10,500; Warren, $10,215; Steubenville, $10,000; Toronto, $10,000; Wintersville, $10,000; Stratton, $9,728; Mingo Junction, $9,000; Steubenville township, $8,275; Yorkville, $7,600; Bloomingdale, $7,000; Irondale, $6,364.22; Amsterdam, $5,000; Brush Creek, $5,000; Cross Creek, $5,000; Ross, $5,000; Salem, $5,000; Wells township, $5,000; Richmond, $5,000; Bergholz, $4,000; Island Creek township, $3,928.95; New Alexandria, $3,845; Dillonvale, $2,200; Adena, $1,500.
Friendship Park and the Jefferson County Fair Board were previously awarded $30,000 each.
Maple pointed out not all communities had weighed in and additional requests might be forthcoming. He also pointed out one community had requested recreation funds to tear a building down, which they can’t do, so that request will be handled through the Jefferson County Land Bank.
Commissioner Tony Morelli reminded commissioners they still have about $364,000 in oil and gas revenue sitting in a special fund. They’ve talked in recent weeks about using some of that money to augment the recreation funds in townships and municipalities, particularly those hard-hit by the gas well traffic, but had requested an opinion from Assistant Prosecutor Shawn Blake on the legality of it.
Blake’s opinion, received June 1, indicated the commission may expend the funds for a township or municipal corporation public improvement within its borders, “so long as the board of county commissioners concludes, in the reasonable exercise of its discretion, that the expenditure constitutes a county purpose.”
He left them even more confused when he suggested commissioners “have broad discretion to determine whether a particular expenditure serves a county purpose.”
“(Commissioners) may expend revenues … for a township or municipal corporation public improvement within the county so long as the board of county commissioners concludes, in the reasonable exercise of its discretion, that the expenditure constitutes a county purpose,” Blake had written.
Morelli said he talked with the prosecutor he can’t tell us what ‘purpose’ means, but I’ve read and reread his letter three or four times and I don’t see why we can’t do it, put some of this oil and gas money into recreation.”
“I vote for that,” he said.
Maple said they might also be able to use oil and gas money to pay to have grass cut at Pico Park and another in the southern end of the county as well as for the necessary equipment.
Commissioners applauded Jefferson County Juvenile Court for “following the process” in its purchase of a vehicle for the probation department, contrasting it with the Airport Authority’s purchase of a vehicle without following those same established procedures.
Juvenile Court told commissioners they’d negotiated with TEAM Automotive for the purchase of a 2023 Ford Explorer, telling commissioners they were going to use $15,880 in federal grant funds to cover a little over half of the purchase. He asked commissioners to approve the purchase and pay the remaining $14,000 out of whatever of their accounts they deemed appropriate.
Court Administrator Joe Corabi said TEAM gave them “a nice trade in” value on their old 2016 model, which had several issues, including the air conditioning, the suspension and some rust
“Having a reliable vehicle is a must,” he said. “I want my guys to be as safe as anyone else.”
Commissioners thanked him for getting the deal approved before they signed any papers, pointing out the airport authority had acquired a vehicle in the opposite fashion, seemingly with no process and in a violation of policy.
“It’s also a violation of the airport authority’s agreement with the commissioners on spending,” Maple pointed out. “We approve their budget, but anything outside of that budget that they spend is supposed to come to this board for approval. We have an automobile that was purchased, I believe, improperly, and we have an agreement with the airport authority that we’ve reminded them numerous times about that has been violated again.”
He said the first they learned of the purchase was after the paperwork was signed and the title was delivered to their office chief, “so I’d like to at least pursue some corrective actions.”
“I agree with you,” Morelli added. “It’s kind of funny that juvenile court just came in and gave us a heads-up and did it the right way. I’ve had several calls from board members and there seems to be some confusion within the board, I’m not sure they even had a meeting about it.”
Morelli and Timmons offered to attend the airport authority’s meeting Monday.
“I’ll take the letter from the juvenile court and say ‘This is how you do it,’ and ask to see where in the minutes (it reflects) that you voted for this car,” Morelli said. “I’m not even sure the board wants to buy the car — I’d be OK if they did, just to let this one go through, but that’s just my opinion.”
Morelli also said “there seems to be some confusion” within that airport authority board as to how the purchase came about.
“I think it probably needs to be reviewed by their legal counsel as to how to dispose of that issue,” Maple said, pointing out “there’s probably enough legal concerns to not openly discuss it” in a public meeting. He said board members “should not be making unauthorized purchases without approval” and that he’d “like to at least pursue some corrective actions.”
Timmons stressed that the airport authority has more than enough money to cover the purchase. “It’s not a question of that,” he said. “It’s just a procedural thing. I think this commission has always been good with approving vehicles, it’s not been an issue. It just needs to be done the right way.”
At Maples suggestion, to avoid surprises in future, commissioners instructed their office chief not to sign any vehicle titles unless the paperwork was submitted for approval ahead of time.
Mike Zinno, superintendent of the Developmental Disabilities board, also told commissioners they were returning operational control of the old armory property over to county officials. Zinno said it’s longer needed by his department, and commissioners said they’ll look into how best to use it.