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Chester Council denies fee appeal

CHESTER — Efforts by two city residents to get council to waive their late fees and penalties due to their failure to pay the annual municipal fee didn’t gain support from members.

During Monday’s council meeting, officials ruled that Bill Greathouse and Andrew Bailey still owed the $90 annual fee plus penalties. Neither man was present for the meeting although Greathouse asked Councilman Jason Thorn to bridge the topic in his absence and Bailey submitted a letter on his own behalf.

In his letter, Bailey explained he received a municipal fee statement with penalties on April 14 for the first time from city officials. The due date noted payment was due also April 14, he added.

The municipal fee is billed to residents to support the city’s services, such as public safety, public health and infrastructure upkeep.

Bailey continued, “I never received a bill from the city nor was made aware of the fee. Therefore, I had no ability to pay any fee before this date and all the penalties were accrued without my knowledge or ability to pay. “

After receiving the statement, he said that he called the city clerk, who confirmed that no statement had previously been sent to him at his address in the 300 block of Sixth Street. Instead the address listed under the invoice description was Sixth and Railroad, he noted.

“Overall, I do not have any issue paying the fee of $90 per year, but I do not believe (it) is reasonable that I should have to pay penalties for a clerical error that was completely out of my control,” Bailey wrote in the two-page letter.

Greathouse, who owns multiple properties throughout the city, expressed similar sentiment through Councilman Thorn. His penalties total $336.15, according to city officials.

Solicitor Michael Adams was not present to offer a legal interpretation to the matter; however, Assistant Clerk Tara Ayers, who was recording the meeting’s minutes, was asked about the exact language in the legislation. She said there was no excuse outlined in the ordinance language to get out of paying the fee.

An effort by Thorn to waive the Greathouse fees was considered first and died for the lack of a second, while the Bailey matter never made the floor. Chester Council also rejected a request by Jason Hobbs, who owns property on Utah Lane, to vacate neighboring property on Birch Street and allow him to have it. Hobbs has been maintaining the property, which has high grass and rodents. He and his legal counsel presented a copy of the petition that had previously been sent to Adams; however, they gave Mayor Ken Morris a copy for clarity when the discussion started.

While the city potentially could vacate the right of way, Morris advised that he was advised by Solicitor Adams that they should not do that and involve themselves in neighborhood issues. If the city would vacate the property, ownership would revert back to the city and officials would have to bid ownership out.

The owner of the neighboring property, Jim Dray was in the audience but elected not to speak during the public comment portion of the meeting like Hobbs.

Council voted to not vacate the property.

In addition, council members agreed to

n Renew its annual computer and maintenance support agreement for the city’s accounting and information systems for $1,475 with Mountaineer Computer Systems. In an effort to save on printing and postage costs, the company offered officials a $25 credit if they switch to paperless billing.

n Pay an annual assessment of $2,000 to the West Virginia Municipal Home Rule Board.

n Deposit receipts of $62,014.44 into the general fund and $2,785 into the building fund as well as pay bills totaling $99,430.78.

n Agreed to retain Adams as their legal counsel for the last year of the contract since he is leaving Lewis Brisbois Bisgaard and Smith, whom they agreed to remit $3,568.50 later in the meeting for the first quarter’s bills, to start his own law firm in Weirton.

Chester council next will meet at 5 p.m. July 12 in council chambers.

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