Martins Ferry officials tightening belt

MARTINS FERRY Issues of budget, finance and the need to save money and stay within expenses was the focus of Monday night’s council meeting. However, the meeting led with a recount of the city’s response during a recent emergency and a warning to any engaged in the drug trade.

Mayor Paul Riethmiller conveyed thanks to the safety director, fire chiefs and volunteer firefighters who assisted in battling a tragic Bridgeport fire last week. A quick and dedicated response saved an entire block.

“We had a tragic situation down there and everybody in the valley came together,” said Safety Director Bill Suto.

Also, in the wake of several warrants served in local communities including a Martins Ferry residence relating to synthetic marijuana, Riethmiller issued a warning to all businesses in the city to cease selling any products associated with synthetic marijuana.

“We know that we have businesses inside the city right now who are selling this product,” he said, noting legal technicalities that allow the use of such products as incense. “The businesses that are selling the product know what the kids are doing with it.”

He added that the police and drug task force will continue to investigate and take action until businesses in the city stop selling the substances.

Regarding the city finances, Auditor Rita Randall reported that the estate tax funds have not yet been received. However, the proposed appropriation had included those funds. It will be temporarily taken out of street lighting and re-appropriated when the monies are received so the appropriations can be delivered to the auditor on time.

Council motioned to pass the appropriations.

“We are passing a very, very tight budget,” said Council Member Robert Hunker, chair of the finance committee. “We’ve got to all work together and adhere.”

This Wednesday at 5:30 p.m. a representative from the Regional Income Tax Agency will speak with council regarding income tax issues.

Council Members Robert Duncan and Robert Krajnyak suggested dissolving the parking meter fund of $77,000 into the general fund. Council will consult the possibility with the city attorney.

In other matters, Council Member Bruce Shrodes noted the high cost of maintaining street lights and suggested a survey to determine whether some areas of the city streets could use fewer lights. The money saved could be re-invested in LED lights.

Also, Development Director Kathy Wade-Gagin reported that the OMERESA purchase program is now available to municipalities as well as schools. She will investigate possible savings by purchasing through them.

In other matters, Service Director Chuck Bennett reported a spring cleaning day set for April 13, 8 a.m.-noon. Electronic recycling will be handled April 12-14 at the school. All products will be accepted except for tube televisions.

Also, cold patching will continue as soon as more material is ready. Filtration refilling and inspection continues. A series of needed valve replacements has been estimated at $25,000. Installation of one at Sunset Heights should take place in four to six weeks. He also noted hydrant replacements and several line replacements.

Regarding the streets, Council Member Russell Armstrong noted that the street committee continues to compile a list of streets that require paving.

Progress is also being made on the creation of a planning commission and a zoning board. The mayor could begin making appointments. Committees are looking into costs.

Council granted a request by the Chamber of Commerce for the use of city streets for the 21st annual Soap Box Derby June 9, with trial runs June 2.

The mayor was authorized to enter into contract with ODSA if the city is awarded CHIP grant funding.

Council motioned to appropriate $4,317 from the general fund to the park district for filter bags and related expenses to open the pool.

Council also motioned to appropriate $1,000 from permanent improvement for wall repairs on an unnamed alley between 607 and 609 Mackey Avenue.

In response to a guest’s questions, Randall and Riethmiller confirmed that city employees who go to the doctors while on co-pay are partly reimbursed, but to a limited amount as part of the contract. Employees must pay $150 at the beginning of each year.

Council will also look into the formation of a temporary committee to investigate how best to bring down benefit costs. Krajnyak will chair.

Thanks went to all who helped and donated to the second annual Easter Egg Hunt.

The public was also reminded that trash cans are to be placed outside in limits of three, with the lids on.

A cemetery and public relations meeting was set for April 9, 6 p.m.

DeFrank can be reached at