Smith, Mavrakis clash over City Park amphitheatre project
Monessen city council is set to acquire a $200,000 grant to help restore the City Park amphitheatre.
But the project is meeting stiff opposition from the Democratic nominee for mayor and two pending council members.
Monessen Mayor Mary Jo Smith and members of council held a public comments meeting Tuesday and plans to approve the Community Development Block Grant application at tonight's monthly business meeting.
Council had already secured $250,000 for the project from the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and has $50,000 left over from last year allocated for council's parks project, according to Smith.
“This council had a vision and we're working toward our goal until our time is up,” Smith said Tuesday. “It's another addition to our community. The idea is to draw younger people here who have families and build a tax base. They're not going to come here if you have nothing to offer.”
However, Democratic nominee Lou Mavrakis, who defeated Smith in the May primary, along with council nominees Patricia Bukowski and John Scott Nestor are calling the project a waste of money, saying the money should be allocated to street paving and other projects.
“It's like needing a new roof and you go and buy a swimming pool instead,” Bukowski said, “and the roof is leaking.”
Bukowski and Nestor defeated incumbents Dr. Martin Dudas and Bill Manus in May, and barring a successful write-in campaign will join council Jan. 1. Mavrakis will face off against Republican nominee Rob Zynosky.
Mavrakis drove around the city Tuesday evening, lamenting numerous pot holes and cracked pavement on streets.
“We've got deplorable streets that money could be used for, especially in the so-called blighted areas,” Mavrakis said. “The three of us are totally in unison against this money being spent on the park and for the next four years, we're going to have to live with the way they squandered this money.”
Smith countered by saying her administration has already paved 18 roads during her four-year term — “more than any previous administration” — and that certain stipulations govern which roads can be paved with grant money. This includes every resident being required to complete a survey detailing their incomes for paving eligibility.
“The emphasis (at Tuesday's public meeting) was to pave the road between the two cemeteries and it's not CDBG eligible because no one lives on those streets,” Smith said. “If you do something that is not approved by CDBG, you have to pay the money back.”
Smith added many city roads would have to be dug up and completely redone, plus an additional $35,000 for the mandatory installation of handicap ramps. According to city Administrator John Harhai, the city spent $98,000 to pave one block of Ontario Street from Schoonmaker to Indiana avenues this summer.
“Yes there are many roads in Monessen that need rebuilt, but $200,000 would do one or maybe one and half blocks,” Smith said. “If we don't do the amphitheatre, the state will take the $200,000 and we lose it.”
As part of the $500,000 project, the amphitheatre backdrop would be capped to provide improved acoustics, along with the installation of a handicap-accessible parking lot and ramp, new seating and electrical and dressing rooms, Smith said.
“This has been part of our plan when we took office and what we ran on before we took office,” Smith said.
Nestor, who accompanied Mavrakis on the tour of the city streets and parks, agreed, saying the city was wrong to spend “a half million dollars on one little section.”
“I'm not against putting money in our parks, but you should do so incrementally — not all in one lump sum,” he said. “It's more important to clean up and maintain the city's infrastructure.”
Mavrakis also claimed council is further dividing the city along racial lines by allocating all its sources into City Park, and Tuesday evening promised residents gathered at picnic tables in Ninth Street Park they would receive improvements if they took responsibility to maintain them.
Smith later took exception to his statement, saying reported drug activity and the sinkhole now consuming the lower part of Ninth Street are tangible examples for the city's decision.
“Ninth Street Park used to be a garbage dump and you have a 35-foot deep hole at the bottom because the sewer systems continued to sink,” she said.
“I'm tired of someone who wants to be mayor using black people as a wedge issue. … The problem lies with the sewer system, water lines and gas lines below. If you don't correct that, that park is going to be washed away.”
Smith said although her administration has a little more than four months remaining, it will proceed with its plan no matter the opposition.
“We're going to do that amphitheatre and the money should be here before November so we can start,” she said. “Come January, the next administration can do whatever their plan is. We're moving on with what we had planned and that is completion of our park projects.”
Mavrakis vowed, if elected in November, to fight the amphitheatre project by any available means.
“If I'm successful, we have to all live with this, and we don't think it's right,” he said. “It's time we worry about the priorities of this town.”
Rick Bruni Jr. is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 724-684-2635.