Follansbee Council approves garbage rate hike, hiring

FOLLANSBEE – A proposed increase to residents’ and businesses’ garbage bills and the filling of a vacancy in the Follansbee Police Department drew split votes at Monday’s Follansbee Council meeting.

Mayor David Velegol Jr. cast the deciding votes in both cases, though the proposed increase to the city’s garbage rate must undergo two readings and a public hearing in the future.

First Ward Councilman Vito “Skip” Cutrone suggested raising the monthly garbage collection fee of $6.50 to $10.50, in two $2 increments over the next two years, for residents, and by $10, in two increments of $5, for businesses, over the same period.

Cutrone said city funds used to offset the cost of the garbage collections could be used elsewhere.

Second Ward Councilman Dave Secrist earlier suggested the money go to paving streets.

Cutrone noted residents in unincorporated areas near Follansbee pay $14.50 per month to a private garbage hauler and residents aren’t billed for the collection of bulky items during the city’s spring and fall cleanups or frequent collection of grass clippings during the warmer months.

The move to raise residents’ garbage rate was supported by Cutrone, Secrist and 3rd Ward Councilwoman Kathy Santoro and opposed by 4th Ward Councilwoman Iris Ferrell, 5th Ward Councilman Tom Ludewig and Councilman at large Dominick Micucci.

In casting the deciding vote, Velegol said, “I don’t think we should subsidize (the garbage collections). We’re raising the rates just so we can break even on the garbage (collections).”

Ferrell said the increase will hurt senior citizens struggling to meet other expenses and cuts should be made in other areas to adequately fund the garbage collections. Ludewig agreed that money for garbage collection could be found elsewhere.

All council members approved the increase for businesses. City Manager John DeStefano said the base rate for businesses varies according to the size of their Dumpsters.

In related business, DeStefano announced the city’s fall cleanup will be held Oct. 28-Nov.1. Residents may leave out bulky items on the days their garbage is normally collected. The city won’t accept construction materials, oil, paints and batteries.

City crews haven’t collected tires, televisions, computers and other appliances with video screens because they’re no longer permitted at landfills. But Cutrone and Secrist said they will gather such objects themselves for transport to the Brooke County Solid Waste Authority Recycling Center in Beech Bottom, and Public Works Director Steve Meca agreed to assist them.

For questions about the cleanup, call (304) 527-1330.

Council also delivered a split vote on filling the police department vacancy. Plans were made to advertise for a person who currently is certified by the state, a move that eliminates the cost of training through the West Virginia State Police Academy.

Cutrone, Secrist and Santoro supported it, while Ferrell, Ludewig and Micucci were against.

Velegol said he would support it on the condition that Police Chief John Schwertfeger would work “five meaningful shifts per week” and not as a third officer when two officers are already scheduled.

Following the meeting, Schwertfeger said the only times he has worked when two other officers were on duty was when he was performing administrative duties.

He said he has worked various shifts to get to know his officers and the people with whom they deal, has worked alone and on holidays and has transported offenders to the Northern Regional Jail so the city isn’t left uncovered.

Some city officials have complained of the cost of overtime worked by city police.

But Schwertfeger said city officers agreed to work overtime when the decision was made not to fill the vacancy as a cost-saving measure.

Cutrone said filling the vacancy would allow more shifts to be worked by two officers, which he said is needed to deter crime.

Santoro said two officers could retire or leave the department and leave it further short-handed.

Ferrell said an effort should be made instead to fine-tune the use of part-time officers.

Since one of the city’s police officers left to work in the Brooke County Sheriff’s Department, the city has employed a handful of part-time officers from other law enforcement agencies.

Secrist said the officers must make their full-time positions their first priority, however.

Micucci said the question of filling the vacancy comes at a bad time, when the city is faced with declining revenue and attempting to tighten its belt.

In other business, council heard from Dave Browning of the Follansbee Baseball Association, who said there’s strong interest in the group’s pony league, for youth ages 11-14, but the field needs work to make it conform to accepted standards.

He asked council for materials and equipment needed to level the field, extend water and electricity to the site and build a concession stand, saying he can supply volunteer labor.

Council is expected to consider the request at its next regular meeting.

Recognized Colliers Primary School for being one of 10 schools named a West Virginia School of Excellence by the state Department of Education. Principal Jo-Ellen Goodall and teacher Dana Stoll and several children and community members represented the school.

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