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St. C. copes with snow, makes water service plans

St. Clairsville Mayor Kathryn Thalman makes a presentation during a prior meeting. The city is making progress on the issue of water service as well as responding to the recent cold weather.

ST. CLAIRSVILLE — A teleconference meeting of St. Clairsville City Council last week featured updates regarding winter weather issues and water service.

Before council could get down to regular business, though, drama arose again as Mayor Kathryn Thalman read a letter from resident Carrie Gralinski criticizing Councilman Frank Sabatino for reading a constituent’s letter to Thalman in the last meeting. The earlier letter writer expressed disappointment in Thalman for sharing a social media post from a conservative commentator that referred to “liberals” as “communists.” Gralinski’s response to Sabatino described his reading of the letter as “political theatre.”

“What I was disturbed by, was that it was read by a member who now seems to be demonstrating an obvious personal dislike for you, and who clearly has some sort of personal vendetta and/or political axe to grind,” Thalman read from Gralinski’s letter. “I find it appalling juvenile.”

Council meetings had been turbulent even prior to Thalman’s administration, which began in 2020, with accusations and clashes of personality around several issues. Among those were the future of water service in the city and the need to meet Ohio Environmental Protection Agency mandates.

The conflict continued into 2020. Sabatino has been vocal in criticizing Thalman’s policies since her term began.

In other matters, Thalman continues to meet with engineer Jeff Vaughn, city Safety and Service Director Jeremy Greenwood, Belmont County Sanitary Sewer District Director Kelly Porter and the Belmont County Board of Commissioners about the plan to connect to and begin purchasing water from the Belmont County system, rather than using the city’s reservoirs and older water treatment plant. The OEPA has mandated action, noting the current system was unsatisfactory.

The connection with a waterline on US 40 on the east end of the city will take place in conjunction with the county’s long-planned renovation of the water and sewer system, with work beginning this year.

Meanwhile, Greenwood will continue to check the water distribution system for leaks. Greenwood said there are potential loans available from the OEPA. Greenwood said the city could be connected to the county as soon as November or December.

“I’m looking more into pushing it more into February or March of next year. This will allow us to hopefully find and correct more leaks so we’re not wasting water once we’re paying for it,” he said.

In addition, Greenwood said there is about $150,000 available for street paving this year. He said more funds for paving might be freed up if other projects are not possible. He said crack sealing of some streets could also increase their longevity.

In answer to a question from Sabatino, Thalman said mayor’s court would begin the last week of February. The software has been updated at a cost of about $11,000.

In police matters, Chief Matt Arbenz said there have been only minor vehicle accidents since the start of recent snow and ice storms. Thalman commended Officer Greg Clark for his work in assisting the city’s elderly via an outreach program.

Planning and Zoning Director Tom Murphy also gave an update on the U.S. Census, which concluded last year. He said results have been delayed until late spring or early fall.

“Sometime between April 30 and Sept. 30, we will find out our population,” Murphy said.

The Census has been a point of concern for the city, since estimates from the Census Bureau place St. Clairsville’s population close to the 5,000-resident mark necessary to retain city status. The options for seeking available funding are expected to narrow should the city become a village. The COVID-19 pandemic curtailed many planned initiatives to promote getting counted.

Thanks also went to the street department employees for their work in keeping the roads clear during inclement weather. Residents are reminded to keep their vehicles off the streets during snowfall and not to shovel snow onto the sidewalks.

Greenwood reported about 300 tons of salt has been used on the streets, with 150 tons remaining. The salt had been bought at $77 per ton through a state purchasing program, and more salt would cost about $150 per ton.

“I’m hoping the groundhog is not right and we start to have some spring weather here,” Greenwood said.

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