Water agreement finalized

STEUBENVILLE – Smithfield water customers beginning Thursday will be getting their water bills through the Jefferson County Water and Sewer Department.

The county commissioners Thursday signed the contract for the takeover of the village’s water system. Village officials had previously signed the agreement.

As part of the agreement, the county agreed to forgive $150,000 in money owed by Smithfield for water purchased from the county.

County Commissioner Thomas Graham said the actual figure is closer to $200,000.

The county has taken the village to court during the past several years over the issue of the village not paying its water bill to the county. The commissioners in March made the initial proposal to Smithfield and the two sides have been in negotiations since.

“It has been a long time in coming,” said county Commissioner Tom Gentile. “It was a complicated deal with a lot of components. It was quite an ordeal, and I’m really happy to get to this point.”

Graham said the county has been trying for six years to get the Smithfield situation resolved.

“It is a win-win. Smithfield gets a $150,000 debt forgiven and the county takes on new customers who are beneficial to the system,” he said.

Graham said the county takeover of the Smithfield water system will help the county provide water service to residents in the south end of the county who have been requesting it for more than 10 years.

County Commissioner David Maple said it is not wise to sell water without getting money for the product. He also was worried about the county continuing to spend taxpayer money fighting to get the money in court.

“We will show the residents of Smithfield that it was the right decision,” he said.

Smithfield Solicitor Bryan Felmet said he believes the contract is the “great resolution.”

Shannan Gosbin, county water and sewer department director, said Smithfield residents will be getting new meter heads like the ones that all county water customers currently have. She said that will take time to get the meters installed to 450 Smithfield customers, so village residents will get a bill in March for the minimum amount of water. Once the new meters are installed, the residents will get a bill for the difference above the minimum.

The county water and sewer department will be sending a letter to village residents explaining the county’s billing procedures.

Graham said the minimum bill will be $5 less than what Smithfield residents were paying because the village added $5 to help cover the cost of the money that was owed to the county.

Commissioners also agreed to provide $10,000 to the United Way of Jefferson County to pay start-up costs of the 211 informational and referral service.

Once the system becomes active, residents will be able to call 211 at any time and receive referrals to nonprofit social service agencies for help on such matters as getting food, shelter, clothing, rent and utility assistance, foreclosure help and job assistance. The call will be answered by a trained specialist who will connect the caller with the appropriate agency. The calls will be answered at a call center operated by the United Way of Greater Stark County.

Beth Rupert-Warren, United Way of Jefferson County executive director, said the system will include information tracking so agencies in the county will be able to identify gaps in services.

“We will be able to track where the needs are,” she said.

The service is set to begin Feb. 11.

Commissioners said they were concerned the system will need money every year.

Rupert said the United Way will be funding the system after that but she couldn’t guarantee it won’t need money in the future, depending upon annual contributions to the United Way.

Commissioners also agreed to turn over a property transfer at the county’s industrial park for Riley Petroleum to the county’s port authority. The Community Improvement Corp. had been handling the transfer, but that organization is phasing out operations because of the port authority formation.

Riley has received state loan and grant money for the construction of the 15,000-square-foot steel building. Riley said the company sells petroleum products in a 100-mile area around the county.

Gentile said Riley received offers to locate the business in West Virginia.

Riley said he is committed to Jefferson County.

“If I wasn’t committed to Jefferson County, I would be elsewhere. I am hoping to be here a long time and grow the business,” he said.

Gentile said the business will be pulling in money from out of the area.

Riley said bids are out for construction of the $1.5 million building. He said the building should be completed by July.

Commissioners also met with members of the county’s Veterans Services Commission about pay raises given to three employees. Veterans services is entitled to a set amount of money – $592,000 – but the commission has never requested the full amount. The budget for this year is close to the maximum amount.

Three employees received pay raises of 30 percent to 60 percent. Commissioners said they were concerned about cuts in services and benefits to county veterans being used as a way to fund the wage increases.

Graham said other county employees have not had a pay raise in years because of the tight budget.

Bill Demjan, a veterans services commission member, said the pay increase brings the employees up to similar pay for veterans services commissions in comparable-size counties.

Graham said be believed the pay increases should have been granted in stages.

Commissioners also:

Met in executive session with that county auditor’s office to discuss the possible purchase of the Towers building on Market Street. Graham said the county has reached a purchase price agreement but the county has to discuss funding of the purchase.

Agreed to lower haul weights on Salem Township Roads 136, 199 and 211 by 25 percent from today through April 30 during the frost-thaw season.

Agreed to purchase three trucks at a cost of $25,255 each from TEAM for the county water and sewer department. The department obtained three proposals for the purchase.

Proclaimed February as Black History Month in the county.