MOUNT VERNON — City council members gave their approval to hiring outside engineering services for two projects: extending a water line to the Schnormeier Event Center (SEC) and the North Mulberry-Belmont Avenue CDBG project.
The water line to the event center in Ariel-Foundation Park must be installed this year. The initial options were to run a line straight to the event center or make a loop from Norton Street to the south side of the SEC via Neal Avenue and Pittsburgh Avenue.
Subsequent discussions included the future possibility of extending the line on Pittsburgh Avenue to Harcourt Road. Extending the line to Harcourt Road met with resistance from Clinton Township.
In a Utilities Committee meeting on Monday evening, City Engineer Brian Ball said there is no money in the 2020 budget to extend the line down Pittsburgh Avenue. Council ultimately decided to run a straight line from Norton Street to the event center. This will reduce engineering fees to $25,000 to $35,000.
The line extension could potentially be paired with another project, such as fixing a drainage problem in north Ariel-Foundation Park, to take advantage of economy of scale.
North Mulberry-Belmont Project
The second project for which the city will contract for outside engineering services is the North Mulberry Street and Belmont Avenue Community Development Block Grant project. Council members passed the legislation as an emergency.
The project includes water valve work, 4,400 linear feet of sidewalk, 9,316 feet of curb, seven curb cuts, 920 feet of storm sewer, and 16 storm water catch basins. Ball said the original intent was to do engineering in-house.
“The challenge we have with this year's construction is we were unable to move this engineering forward. We have to have the project completed, in place and paperwork done, on Aug. 1, 2020 or we start losing points massively for our next grant application,” he said.
Engineering fees will run about $30,000, $5,000 of which will come out of this year's budget. The remainder will come from the 2020 budget.
The CDBG grant is $236,000. The city will pay $209,000 on the project; the Ariel Foundation will pay $200,000. The city's utility fund will pay for any utility upgrades that might be needed.
In other business, council:
- Amended the 10-year lease with the Foundation Park Conservancy to clarify city and conservancy responsibilities at Ariel-Foundation Park
- Amended the ordinance relating to distribution of the city's lodging tax for 2020 and 2021. Knox Partnership for Arts & Culture dba: The Woodward Opera House Conservancy replaces the Woodward Development Corp in receiving 20% of tax collected. Other entities remain the same: the city, 5% for administrative fees; Mount Vernon Parking Co., 10%; Heritage Centre Association dba: Main Street Mount Vernon, 30%; Knox County Convention & Visitors Bureau, 20%; Foundation Park Conservancy, 5%; and available petition fund (grants), 10%.
- Gave a first reading to legislation removing two parking spaces on the west side of South Mulberry Street
- Accepted the parking lot at 404 S. Gay St. as a gift to the city from the Mount Vernon Development Co.
- Gave a second reading to legislation changing the name of the Water and Wastewater Commission to the Utilities Commission
Employee & Community Relations Committee
Councilman Tanner Salyers started the discussion about renaming the Water and Wastewater Commission by introducing an amendment to expand the members of the commission.
The current commission consists of the safety-service director, city engineer, and public utilities director. Salyers proposed adding two community members and one alternate.
“This commission in its current structure has direct vested interest,” he said. “Two neutral voices on this commission will provide a neutral ear, adding a sense of fairness.”
Both City Engineer Ball and Public Utilities Director Mathias Orndorf said that they like the idea of community involvement, but they sounded a cautionary note.
“Two members of the commission are licensed and directly responsible for protecting the public. We are charged with the critical decisions to maintain the system,” said Ball. “In the past, we've had gridlock. People want credits; we say no. We are running a utility.”
Orndorf noted that the city has four licensed ORCs (Operator of Record) as required by the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency.
“The two people from the public will need to have training or something with the EPA,” he said. “His [Ball's] license is on the line. If we start failing on getting things done, it comes back on us first, and we could lose our licenses.”
Salyers said he thinks council can rely on the mayor to appoint reliable people.
Ball pointed out that a city council member has a voice in commission meetings but not a vote.
“City council has a seat at the table but has not attended the past couple of years,” he said, adding that the council member is responsible for in-depth learning and representing the public.
“It's the best direct line to council,” agreed Auditor Terry Scott, referring to a council member's attendance at meetings.
Regarding potential delays in increasing fees as needed to maintain the water, wastewater, and storm water utilities, Scott noted that the utilities are self-supporting and do not get any additional support other than utility fees.
Ball suggested appointing one community member to the commission, bringing the number to four. In the event of a tie vote, the mayor could be brought in to cast the deciding vote.
Council Members Matt Starr, Janis Seavolt, and Mike Hillier like the idea of community involvement but want more information. Tanya Newell, clerk of council, will contact other communities to see who sits on their commissions. Council will hold another committee meeting on Dec. 23.