New Cumberland sets year’s priorities

NEW CUMBERLAND – For a little town, New Cumberland has a lot of issues.

This week, Mayor Linda McNeil and New Cumberland City Council prioritized five of those issues as being most worthy of their time this year:

Street and sidewalk repairs;

Rehabilitation or demolition of dilapidated buildings;

Improvements to the city’s sewer and water systems;

Rerouting of truck traffic on state Route 2/Station Hill; and

A citywide spring cleanup.

The goal with all five priorities is to make New Cumberland more attractive to business and industry, said McNeil, who discussed the issues with council members at a recent work session.

“We reaffirmed that our streets need attention, that we would dedicate ourselves to fixing them,” she said.

Along with street repairs, council learned that scheduled improvements to the Second Avenue sidewalks likely will begin this summer. A project to install wheelchair ramps along Second Avenue, although approved for federal funding, has languished for several years as the city experienced one delay after another.

The city is in the process of repairing sections of the sidewalk so that the ramps can be installed at several Second Avenue intersections, McNeil said. The city also reached an agreement with the West Virginia Historic Preservation Office over what to do with Works Progress Administration sidewalk stamps dating back to the 1930s.

The city will remove the stamps, which suggest that the sidewalks were built by WPA laborers during the Depression, and display them in the New Cumberland Municipal Building or the Hancock County Historical Museum, she said.

McNeil said the city also is moving forward with plans to hold property owners accountable for the condition of dilapidated buildings, especially those on North Chester Street in the block north of Madison Street.

“We are focusing on properties in that area that are not open for business and, we suspect, are not in compliance with our ordinance,” she said. “We are going to move forward to inspect those properties and work with the owners to bring them into compliance – and hopefully get them open for business.”

Although some of the property owners are known, others are absentee owners that the city is still trying to identify, McNeil said.

Those buildings that already have been condemned will be razed once the city finds funding to pay for the demolitions, she said.

“The average cost of demolition is $3,000 to $6,000, so we’re trying to set aside funds through the city budget to take care of a couple of those. We’re seeking grants to help with others,” she said.

Once a building is demolished, the city can put a lien on the property as a way to recover its initial costs. “Someone can buy it,” McNeil said, “but they have to satisfy the lien before the sale is complete.”

The city’s recently reactivated Building Enforcement Agency is setting a timetable for building demolitions.

“I would hope we could have something accomplished by the fall,” McNeil said.

New Cumberland hopes to apply for a USDA Rural Development grant to pay for a study of its aging water and sewer systems, McNeil said. Once that assessment is done, more federal money may be available for actual improvements, said Patrick Ford, executive director of the Business Development Corporation of the Northern Panhandle.

“They would look at the systems, do some measuring, bring it back to us and say, ‘This is what’s wrong,'” McNeil said.

The city raised its water and sewer rates in July 2013 in the hopes of generating additional revenue for costly repairs and upgrades to both systems.

In addition, McNeil said she is “excited” about a citywide spring cleanup scheduled for mid-April. Although the dates aren’t firm, the 2014 cleanup will be more extensive than previous ones, she said.

“We’re looking at a four-day event and creating kind of a party,” she said. “We’re hoping to identify folks who want to clean up their property but aren’t physically able to do it.”

Cleanup organizers include Councilwoman Miriam Hess and Community Service Director George Hines.

The BDC’s Ford said that by identifying priorities and committing resources to them, New Cumberland already is in better shape than a lot of small West Virginia cities.

“That’s a major step,” he said. “So many communities … don’t spend the necessary time up front to get people on board to champion these individual causes.”

Ford said it’s critical for city leaders to find people who can serve on committees dedicated to the revitalization efforts.

Although all five priorities are intertwined, Ford said the most important one from an economic development perspective is building demolition because it creates space.

“What a business or industry needs most is land. The biggest item is: What can we do to assemble a prominently situated piece of property to put a business or industry in?” Ford said. “Do we have vacant or under-utilized spaces?”

Ford said he knows of two sites – one on the north end of New Cumberland and one on the south end – that are “ideally situated” for economic development: the Resco Products Inc. New Cumberland Operation, which is moving to East Canton, Ohio, and AL Solutions, which has scaled back its New Cumberland operations following a 2010 industrial accident and the construction of a new facility in Burgettstown, Pa.

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