Council talks water meters, landfill

STEUBENVILLE – City Council members discussed a laundry list of issues Tuesday night, including a new water meter system and the closing of the old city landfill. But council took no action on a proposed 2013 budget.

Sixth Ward Councilman and Finance Committee Chairman David Lalich called for a finance committee meeting at 6 p.m. Tuesday and later said there are issues to discuss.

The city has until the end of March to submit a balanced budget to state officials.

City Manager Cathy Davison proposed a general fund budget last week that included closing the Pleasant Heights fire station, laying off five firefighters and not filling a vacant police patrolman position.

That plan, according to Davison, would allow the city to finish 2013 with a $96,826 surplus. But city officials still are struggling to balance the water fund budget, and several council members initially opposed a plan to lay off a utility billing operator, a water meter reader and an assistant water plant operator.

Council continued discussions Tuesday night regarding the purchase of a new water meter system that includes guaranteed revenue and the ability to remotely read water meters throughout the city from the utility billing office in City Hall as well as remotely shut off delinquent accounts instead of manually locating and digging up the curb valve boxes.

“CT Consultants will assist us with the Request for Qualifications proposal. We will advertise for those proposals in March and April and they will be due at our offices by May 8. Ideally we will receive several bids. Included in the RFQs is a revenue guarantee. A committee of city officials will review the RFQs and narrow the list of bidders to the top three. Those three bidders will then make presentations to the city on June 10, and we hope to award the project by June 24. We anticipate the complete meter replacement project will take 12 to 18 months to complete,” explained Finance Director Alyssa Kerker.

“We plan to obtain a short-term meter lease to pay for the new equipment and pay that lease off in five to eight years with the additional revenue from the meters reading more accurately. The contractor awarded the bid will do all of the work on this project,” continued Kerker.

“The contractor will put up radio towers that will transmit the meter readings to the utility billing office. Once they complete an area they will move to the next part of the city,” she added.

“I would like to see the project start with commercial users first. They are our largest water users. Or at least start in the west end where the mall, Kmart plaza, Lowes and Trinity West are located, then start on University Boulevard where the motels are at,” stated 2nd Ward Councilman Rick Perkins.

Meter Repairman Mark Walker, who was invited to the meeting by Lalich, questioned the new meter system and said he doesn’t think it will work. There are a number of commercial, and about 70 residential, meters that aren’t working now. You have never come to us to ask us our opinion, Walker told council members.

“From everything I have heard, I think it will be wonderful if it works. If a new meter system is put in I hope I am proven wrong. I hope the council isn’t proven wrong. I just can’t see how this system will work,” added Walker.

“I want to stop the bleeding. I want to see the list of bad water meters and where they are at,” noted 3rd Ward Councilman Greg Metcalf.

Council also discussed selling water to oil and gas drillers, and Councilman at large Kenny Davis asked if a pump station could be built in the city’s South End.

“We have to find a way to sell water because that is an excellent source of revenue for the city,” Davis said.

“That may be a problem because pumping from a fire hydrant will lower water pressure in that neighborhood,” responded assistant Water Department Superintendent Bill Skinner.

Skinner said the city sold 5.2 million gallons of water in less than 14 days in 2012 and has sold 25,000 gallons the first two months of 2013.

In other business, council:

Heard from Law Director S. Gary Repella and Kerry Zwierschke of Bennett & Williams Environmental Consultants, who said the city has successfully reached an agreement with the Ohio Attorney General and the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency for the closing of the city’s former landfill located near the Jefferson County Airport.

“The OEPA gave us a year to install two wetlands at the landfill. We will direct seepage from the landfill and mine runoff to the wetlands where iron and minerals will be removed. The estimated cost for the two wetlands is $500,000 to $600,000,” explained Zwierschke.

“We hope to start creating the wetlands this spring so they will be finished by Oct. 31. But until the 88-acre landfill is permanently capped, the property will not be considered closed,” she added.

“This proposal will bring closure to 30 years of discussions with the state to close the landfill. We negotiated an agreement with the attorney general’s office that will allow us to continue closing the landfill as long as we have the money from the oil and gas lease on that property. If we don’t have the money, they won’t find us in contempt. Council made an excellent decision to sign a lease with Hess Ohio Development for the oil and gas lease. And this agreement with the state will save our residents $10 million in closing costs,” said Repella.

Heard from Thomas Unger, the client service manager of MWH Americas, who recommended the city construct a building with lights and heat over the super pulsator at the water filtration plant.

“We have been asking for a cover over the super pulsator for the past three years. We are lucky no one was hurt there. I don’t want to see anyone get hurt when it is winter and that area is frozen,” cited Perkins.

“We are ready to go with this plan. We plan to put the project out for bids in four to six weeks. It will take three to four months to get it ordered and one month to erect the building. This building will not affect any future expansion plans for the water plant,” said Unger.

During the sunshine meeting, Lalich introduced legislation to authorize the city manager to execute the amended agreement with the attorney general for the landfill closure.

Lalich also proposed an ordinance authorizing the city manager to advertise for the meter replacement program, including a guaranteed revenue for the city.

Metcalf introduced legislation to advertise for the development of two wetlands at the landfill.

And Perkins brought in an ordinance to advertise for bids for the demolition of several dilapidated structures at 634 and 653 Prospect Ave., 628 Rear Lincoln Ave., 215 N. Ninth St., 233 N. Ninth St., 226 and 228 N. Ninth St., 264 N. Ninth St., 516 Wilkins St., 539 Linden Ave., 1426 Euclid Ave., 711 Pine St., 249 N. Eighth St. and 622-624 Grandview Ave. as unsafe structures.

Council agreed to meet at 7 p.m. Tuesday to continue discussions on the possibility of a charter review commission.