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Utility shutoffs to resume this month in St. Clairsville

ST. CLAIRSVILLE — Delinquent utility shut-offs will resume this month, and new ordinances began going through readings this week clarifying burning regulations and prohibiting feeding wild animals.

During a teleconference meeting of the St. Clairsville City Council, Finance Director Annette Williams said she is working with the county toward applying for reimbursement from the state for losses related to the coronavirus pandemic. Williams said a resolution would be presented to council at the next July meeting.

“We’ll be going through the county and trickled down to the townships or cities,” she said.

Williams said she will provide more information during the first meeting in August regarding pandemic’s impact on city utility payments and income tax.

Councilwoman Beth Oprisch gave an update on behalf of the utility committee. In recognition of the economic hardship imposed by the coronavirus, the city has been refraining from late fees and shut-offs for several months. Starting July 15 this will resume.

“We haven’t turned off utilities to be considerate and understanding and as compassionate as we possibly can during the pandemic. Utilities haven’t been turned off all year, but…those customers who are in arrears, unless they contact us, utilities are going to be started to be turned off.”

She recommends residents with delinquent payments contact the city by July 13 so that a payment plan can be arranged. She said state programs are also available to lend assistance.

Williams said there are about 165 customers who are currently delinquent, totaling about $57,000, although not all of them are related to the pandemic.

Planning and Zoning Director Tom Murphy reported on the ongoing Census, saying the city’s response so far was 71.5 percent.

“We’re kind of stagnating as most of communities in the Ohio Valley are in terms of progress,” Murphy said, adding anyone with questions about the Census can contact his office at 740-695-1953. “If you’re aware of someone who hasn’t completed the census, have them give me a call.”

Councilman Perry Basile asked how the current response compares to last Census and if the response was sufficient to maintain St. Clairsville’s city status, which requires 5,000 residents. There has been concern in the county seat after projections from the Census Bureau put St. Clairsville’s population at close to the 5,000 mark.

“Nobody has any of that raw data yet,” Murphy said. “The previous Census of 2010, our final response rate was approximately 87 percent, and at 87 percent our population was 5,184.”

Murphy said 71.5 percent was comparable to St. Clairsville’s Census progress last year, considering other factors.

“The coronavirus has thrown everyone into a tailspin,” he said, adding studies from the Census department suggest many communities will be returning lower counts than their actual populations.

Council also held the first of three readings of a new burning ordinance, rewritten to be more specific and enforceable. Cumberland Trail Fire Chief Tim Hall and Police Chief Matt Arbenz assisted in rewriting the ordinance.

“It’s never been clearly spelled out what people can and what people can’t do,” Arbenz said. “You had to jump back and forth between definitions and look for things.”

Councilman Mike Smith said there seemed to be some subjective elements in the ordinance, such as classifying a burning as a nuisance and disturbance.

He was told much of the language was based on the Ohio Revised Code. Council President Jim Velas said the resolution would cover such issues as people with breathing problems who are dealing with smoke drifting through their windows.

Council also held the first reading of an ordinance prohibiting feeding wild animals. Arbenz said the ordinance was motivated by an instance of a resident feeding wild animals for the past two or three years of a resident feeding squirrels, deer, raccoons and other animals. Arbenz said there are now groundhogs nesting around the property, undermining others’ homes and causing nuisance issues. He said coyotes have also been attracted to town and that this practice increases incidents of traffic accidents involving deer. Velas said a black bear was also seen around the city at one point.

The ordinance makes this a minor misdemeanor punishable by fine.

In response to some questions from city leaders, Arbenz said bird feeders are still permitted. He added police to not intend to target minor incidents.

Basile asked if the ordinance could be modified to add language specifying creating a public nuisance. He was told it could be added to the ordinance during the next meeting, and the ordinance could then be passed as an emergency to avoid having to begin the three readings again.

Velas said budget hearings were held by teleconference July 1.

The pool at Memorial Park is open with a capacity of 125 people.

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