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City Council Hears Concerns About City Park

Council members Dionne Merritt, Sharon Johnson, and Russell Givens.  file photo

The Morgantown City Council took up safety concerns at the city park, a contract to improve efficiency in utilities, and two funding requests at their regular meeting Thursday.
 
Many concerned citizens were on hand to tell the Council about dangerous conduct by people hanging around at the city park.  Complaints ranged from fighting to drugs to foul language.  One man who lived nearby said a fight had broken out on his back porch and his children were picking up bad language; two women said they felt unsafe walking down Dave Gaskey Lane from people coming from the park.  Several people said that the people hanging around the park combat the police patrols by alerting each other on cellphones when police leave.  Mayor Linda Keown suggested a neighborhood watch for the park and pointed out that new signs have been erected throughout the park with the phone number for police dispatch.  Council member Allen Meredith said that citizens can be the “eyes and ears” for authorities to combat these problems.  Council member Terrell House said that he’d seen citizens’ concerns about the park on social media, adding that Council members had not responded there because they were working on the issue.  House said that the Council had some solutions they would not reveal yet.  Richie Bratcher told the Council that although he lost his bid for County Judge-Executive, he remained concerned about the community and would do whatever he needed to do to help whether it was to donate money or meet with elected officials.  House brought up the idea of a security officer for the park, and Keown said the trailer that was moved to the park for Catfish Festival officials to use would remain there for awhile for police to use.  She said the city is addressing the issue creatively but added that so much more can be accomplished with citizen help, adding “if we can all get together, we can stop this.”  A meeting with the public, the Council, and MPD Chief Swiney was called for July 22 at 7:00 p.m. at Pavillion #1 of the city park.
 
Council member Gary Southerland told the Council about a new contract between the city and Trane to improve energy and utility efficiency.  Trane and the school system have partnered for years and has brought energy use down for the school system, and Southerland said that the 15-year Trane program with the city will guarantee energy savings.  The city should get $50,000 in annual utility savings or extra revenue and another $5,000 in annual savings in improved efficiency in city buildings.  Trane is sampling all water meters in the city to gauge their level of inefficiency; Southerland said all water meters will be replaced and all gas meters will be modified; not only will the meters be more accurate but the time required to read them will change from four days to less than one hour.  Southerland stated that Trane will meet with the Council and the Utilities Board after assessing the meters.
 
Two organizations asked the Council for funding.  Bruce White of the Boys and Girls Club asked the Council for $12,500, and the Council approved the request.  June Howard of the Butler County Rescue Squad asked the Council for $5,000, adding that fundraising was not covering their needs.  She apologized for not bringing their financial report due to her recent hand surgery, and she said the next fundraiser would be August 2 at the Rescue Squad.  No decision was made.
 
Keown told the meeting that she’s been working on the problem of solid waste not picked up at some city residential properties.  She said that city ordinance requires residents to have garbage pickup, and the city is working to find and contact residents about trash not being removed.  Keown said the city needs to make people more aware of the ordinance and the problem.
 
Council member Dionne Merritt suggested that Council members should do what she called a summer stroll, groups of three Council members walking through neighborhoods talking to people about their concerns for the city.  The Council was generally in favor of the idea and would work out the details of when and where.
 
The Council took up a real estate tax computer program offered by Data Design Inc.  The program is supposed to allow the city to be better able to track delinquent property taxes and should improve the city’s ability to collect.  The initial cost for software and training is $3,250 with other add-on options available.  Concern was expressed that after eleven years unpaid balances fall off the books and cannot be collected.  The Council approved acquiring the Data Design program.
 
Mayor Keown touched on various issues during the meeting.  Street paving would be starting to repair damage from the winter; Keown said five or six streets would be prioritized for paving.  Keown also said that the Corvette Caravan would be coming through Morgantown on August 27, and the city has been asked to provide a stop for the event.  Keown reminded the meeting that Casco plans to expand its production to a level of 60 workers starting in September.  Keown praised the maintenance and police departments for their work during the Catfish Festival, and she reported that there have been over 11,000 hits this past month on the city’s new website.
 
MPD Chief Swiney reported the department had a “very, very busy month” with 523 calls for service in June, the Catfish Festival activities that required police presence, the Aberdeen Trading Post break-in where a suspect was apprehended, the lodging of a rapist/kidnapper last month, and the break-ins at the parking lot of the former Pamida building.  Swiney reported that twelve people have been banned from the city park; when asked, Swiney said that any of those people who come back to the park could be “lodged or cited for criminal trespass.”
 
Council member Terrell House told the Council that he’s been working with the tennis court issues and hopes to “see big changes” in the condition of the courts.  House also said that he hopes to see work resume on sidewalks now that the Catfish Festival is over.
 
In other business, the Council approved the 1st reading of the 3rd amendment to the 2013-14 budget, increasing the funding level for police and streets.

Story by Don Thomason, Beech Tree News

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