University Heights City Council meeting highlights 9-2-2014
SEPTEMBER 2, 2014
- Public comments
- Bellefaire parking lot
- Meritech contract
- Special assessments for 2015
- Technical Assistance award
- Lawn mower
- Vendor contracts
- EMS staffing
Councilman Phil Ertel was absent.
Traymore Road home deterioration: Resident Christine Tunison pointed out the deterioration of the home at 2539 Traymore Road. It was sold for $25,000 in 2013. The new roof is not finished and the garage has not been replaced. Mayor Susan Infeld said they were aware of the property, and that the new building commissioner, Eric Tuck-Macalla, would contact her with information.
Sewer fees:Tunison pointed out recent basement flooding and questioned the sewer fees on the agenda when the city already collects fees. Jeffrey Pokorny, service director, said the recent rainfall was as much as three inches in some areas, causing areas to flood. They are continuing to inspect sewer lines for blockages and breaks, and are inspecting all homes that reported flooding.
Assessments: Tunison also asked about the tree and lighting assessments on the agenda, as there are existing assessments for these items. Mayor Infeld explained that these were annual renewals of the fees and not increases.
Flooding: Resident Yanina Muzis said that the home next door to her on Warrensville [Center Road], which is owned by John Carroll University, causes water to flood onto her property whenever it rains. Mayor Infeld asked Muzis to contact city hall with the address of the home and said that the new building commissioner would look into the flooding issue.
EMS unit staffing: Muzis asked why University Heights EMS units now have only two personnel instead of three, [like] neighboring communities. The mayor explained this was a pilot program conducted by Fire Chief Douglas Zook, and that he would report on this program later in the meeting.
Fire department merger: Muzis also asked when would the University Heights and Shaker Heights fire departments merger issue be resolved. The mayor explained that the merger is no longer under consideration because the two unions said it would not work.
Bellefaire parking lot
Council approved the planning commission recommendation to allow Bellefaire JCB at 22001 Fairmount Blvd. to expand its existing parking area,located along the eastern border of the campus, with an additional 37 parking spaces.
The Meritech contract for professional services for computer support, network security and upgrades remained tabled. Thomas Coyne, law director, said he has found nothing improper pursuant to Ohio laws. [As a] precaution, council has asked Coyne to verify the RFP process.[The contract was questioned because the assistant to the director of finance is the sister of the sales representative for Meritech.]
Special assessments for 2015
University Square: Council authorized the collection of special assessments for 2015 on certain parcels of land within the city, and authorized the director of finance to file the report on the abatement of special assessments, dated July 25, 2014, with the Cuyahoga County fiscal officer on or before Sept. 8, 2014. This relates to the University Square TIF (Tax Increment Financing), which must be renewed annually and must be presented to the county in time to be added to property tax bills. Vice Mayor Susan Pardee abstained, as she is an employee of the school district, which is a party to the TIF.
Sewer: Council approved a special property assessment for establishing a sewer fund to maintain, repair and reconstruct the sewerage system and waterlines for 2014. This is a renewal; there is no change from the 2013 sewer assessment.
Trees and streetlights: Council also approved assessments for the spraying, planting, maintaining and removal of shade trees at 80 cents per front foot for 2014, and for streetlights at the rate of 70 cents per front foot for 2014. This is a renewal with no increases.
Housing violation court costs: Council approved special assessments for city-incurred court costs at various locations throughout the city. Three properties in the city incurred unpaid court costs due to housing violations. The total amount of $813 for the three properties will be applied to their property tax bills. Property owners are sent one notice of the fine. If they don’t pay, the city then applies the cost to the property tax bill. If the notice is returned as undeliverable, the city makes a good faith effort to locate a valid address for the owner.
Grass abatements: Council approved special assessments for the removal of nuisance conditions. If homeowners do not respond sufficiently to a citation from the building department, the city can go ahead and make the necessary repairs and then apply the cost of the work to the property’s owner. These assessments were for grass abatements. Two of the properties were owned by the land bank and were removed from the list.
Technical Assistance award
Council authorized an agreement with Northeast Ohio Areawide Coordinating Agency (NOACA) for technical assistance and project development. The city had applied for a grant from the Livable Cities Initiative, to provide pedestrian improvements for Warrensville Center Road and Cedar Center. Instead of the grant, NOACA awarded a technical assistance award, providing planners to work with city staff on suggested improvements. There will be three planning meetings and two public meetings with NOACA.
Council approved the purchase of a 48-inch zero-turn lawn mower for the service department from Best Truck Equipment Inc for $6,700. This was a budgeted purchase for 2014, replacing a mower of the same dimensions that broke after seven years of use.
A motion was presented to approve vendor contracts. The first contract presented was with Cedar Center Hardware, from which the city makes many small purchases over the course of the year. Councilman Mark Wiseman noted that the form only confirmed the business’s tax numbers, and did not stipulate amounts or time frame. Law Director Coyne explained that council was being asked to approve these contracts because the purchases were not made through a competitive bid process but might exceed the mayor’s $5,000 spending limit over the course of a year. Coyne [said he] had drawn up the form but council was welcome to edit the language. Coyne [said he] felt that the contract put the vendor on notice that if the amount exceeded $5,000 the purchase might require council’s approval.
Vice Mayor Pardee noted that the finance committee was considering non-operational vendor contracts and compiling a list of approved operational vendors. She would like to finalize the committee’s proposed action at its next meeting on Sept. 18. Council had voted previously for the mayor to continue business as usual until the finance committee could complete its findings.
Coyne said that although council had indicated that bills could be paid, there is no language in the charter that distinguishes one type of expenditure from another, or verbal agreements from written agreements. He said the $5,000 limit, set 30 years ago, was much lower than spending limits in other cities. Mayor Infeld felt that if council was going to closely scrutinize her expenditures, she wanted to follow Coyne’s recommendation that any expenditures potentially exceeding the mayor’s spending limit be approved. Wiseman disputed the greater level of scrutiny, saying that this issue had resulted from council’s request to see the actual contracts that the mayor signed with Braun & Steidl, which significantly exceeded the $5,000 limit and were signed contracts. Council’s question had nothing to do with the daily operating expenses. Council approved Councilwoman Nancy English’s motion to table the motion until a later meeting.
Fire Chief Zook reported that he changed the EMS staffing levels in April after spending two months reviewing the current system, to provide greater efficiency and safety. Having three EMS personnel was one person too many for most EMS calls, and one person too few for major calls. The safety concern comes from having someone scheduled for hours when they are not needed. Extra help is only needed if a person is in full cardiac arrest or if there is a major traffic accident. Four people are optimal for a fire engine so putting a third person in the ambulance takes [him or her] away from the engine. This trial program is based on his observations.
LWV Observer: Wendy Deuring.
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