Sewer issue also dominates City Council meeting
President of Portsmouth City Council Howard Baughman told those present at Monday's Portsmouth City Council meeting council would be considering legislation in the conference agenda to follow the regular meeting dealing with the city's sewer issues.
"An addition to the conference agenda about contracting with Strand and Associates to complete and revise our long-term control plan which is going to enable us to fix the problems with the sewer systems on the hilltop, and also all over the city," he explained. "It is a necessary thing that we have to do. It will be a large plan that we can move forward with - that we have to finish Phase One and Two that was done by Stilson."
Baughman said Portsmouth Waste Water Director Rick Duncan had decided Strand would be the appropriate engineering firm to complete the study and make recommendations to Environmental Protection Agency.
"The EPA will be here this Friday the 12th to talk about the recommendations from the Federal EPA and the state EPA, and to move forward, because it is probably going to be one of the largest capital expenditures we have ever made," he said.
Baughman said council will appropriate what is left of the Stilson account to Strand to begin the revisions and make recommendations to the city.
The W.E. Stilson report on the combined sewer system long-term control plan was prepared on Sept. 19, 2006.
Several Grandview Avenue residents in recent months have addressed council on the issue of the sewer system in that area - a system that since 1997 repeatedly has flooded homes, bringing raw sewage into basements and main floors of residences, the latest being in June.
Teresa Mollette presented a letter to Portsmouth city solicitor Mike Jones regarding an order of injunction.
The letter read, in part - "According to ORC (Ohio Revised Code) 733.56 application of injunction, I am requesting you in writing as the City Solicitor, to act on Ordinance #50-08 in accordance with the laws of the United States, the State of Ohio and the Municipality of Portsmouth, Ohio.
"On Aug. 25, 2008, this ordinance was passed even though the City Auditor indicated there were no funds available. The auditor also made note during the discussion if he were the city solicitor he would not advise council to pass this ordinance due to proper funds not being identified."
The letter goes on to cite the solicitor, upon written request of any taxpayer in the municipality, the taxpayer may be named as a party defendant and if that occurred, they "shall have the right to assist in presenting all issues of law and fact to the court in order that a full and complete adjudication of the controversy may be had."
In response to the letter, Portsmouth city auditor Trent Williams said he had made the recommendation at the last Portsmouth City Council meeting because he would not have been able to certify the funds, and cited it was a first reading, which he said could have gone two more readings, giving time for him or the department to identify the source of the funds.
"If you bring a project to the mayor and he approves of that project, you should have some idea of how you will pay for that project," he said. "It's not entirely in my lap to figure out how you are going to pay for your project."
Williams said he does work with the various departments to come up with ideas and solutions, especially during budget times - but he said when addition projects come forward he said he needs help from the departments to find out where their funding sources are.
"I did not say there was not money available. I said I could not certify that there was money available," he said. "There's a big difference in saying there is no money and saying this time I cannot certify that there is."
City Council passed a resolution accepting the amounts and rates as determined by the Budget Commission of Scioto County authorizing the necessary tax levies and certifying the same to the county auditor.
This was the completion of legislation passed earlier raising the city property tax from the present .70 mills to 3.80 mills, to purchase a new fire truck and to take care of other needs at Portsmouth Central Fire Station on Gallia Street.
Third Ward Councilman Bob Mollette spoke about the issue, saying he felt the ordinance places a burden on taxpayers and it should have been contained in the capital improvements budget.
"And also I understand that the County Taxation Board was concerned why it wasn't a five-year or 10-year payback - why it had to be an almost 4-mill levy," Mollette said in reference to the bond levy being for only one year.
"I was there at the Budget Commission meeting, and it's the first time that anyone from the Budget Commission has ever questioned the city's decisions as to how long they choose to do their business," Williams said. "City Council, especially being a charter city, typically doesn't take recommendations, advice or ask for any of that from any other entities within the county."
By phone earlier in the day Monday, Williams said Scioto County auditor David Green has - "no say in it whatsoever. It is none of his business if council wants to do it in one year or 30 years. His job is to certify the number of millage that it takes to satisfy council's decision."
Williams was asked if the step up in property taxes from .70 to 3.80 was 440 percent, as has been charged by several citizens of Portsmouth.
"It is. I figured it out the other day," he said.
Williams was asked if City Council then would use that new rate to tell taxpayers with the passage of the City Center project there would be no increase in the tax rate.
"That is correct. It would not be an increase at that point," he said.
Williams also said it can't be determined as to how many years that millage would remain in effect, estimating at 25 to 30 years.
If this does not happen, the millage would be scheduled to return to .70 mills in 2009.
Williams said if the decision to do the City Center project was made five years ago, the millage would have been in the neighborhood of 2.50 mills probably for an estimated 20 years, but costs nearly have tripled over the past five years.
Williams cited lawsuits as the reason the project was not done at that time.
Members of the 9- and 10-year-old Portsmouth softball team were on hand to be honored at Monday night's meeting with a resolution congratulating them on winning the state championship.
Portsmouth Mayor James Kalb also read a proclamation.
Mike Malone appeared with several children before council to thank council for opening the McKinley Pool this past year.
"They (the children) wanted to express their gratitude to the mayor, Mr. (Mike) Mearan, Mr. (David) Malone, my councilman Bob Mollette, and all the other council members and other city officials - seen and unseen - and citizens, for keeping McKinley Pool open."
That drew a response from one of the members of city council during comments by individual members of council.
"I promise you next year it won't be close to Labor Day when it opens," said First Ward Councilman Mike Mearan. "It will be closer to Memorial Day."
Bob Mollette said he had spoken with officials in the Water Works department about complaints water bills reflected large increases with the addition of new water meters.
Mollette said he was told if anybody had any questions, the city is willing to work to resolve the issue.
Council also gave first reading to an ordinance authorizing the establishment of Fund No. 270, a new separate fund account for the revenue and expenditures of Portsmouth Land Reutilization Program and transferring of $2,000 from the general fund to start the program.
FRANK LEWIS can be reached at (740) 353-3101, ext. 232.