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Monessen approves amphitheater project

| Thursday, Aug. 22, 2013, 12:11 a.m.

Barring any setbacks, Monessen's City Park will have a new amphitheatre next year.

Council voted 4-1 Wednesday to apply for $200,000 in matching state Community Development Block Grant funds for the estimated $500,000 project — the final stage of a parks and recreation improvement plan.

The amphitheatre has hosted music groups this year, including students from California University of Pennsylvania and a gospel choir from Atlanta.

“We have one of the only and best amphitheatres in the Valley,” Mayor Mary Jo Smith said of the structure, which was built in 1943. It would be a shame to let it go. Taken care of, it would be a shame to not repair and extend that. It's something for the community to build the activities up at the park.”

Councilman Josh Retos cast the lone nay vote. After the meeting, Retos said the grant money would be better used at other parks, notably Shawnee Park.

“Shawnee Park is in shambles. I know we spent money putting in lights and a concession stand, but the bleachers are splintered, the swings and play sets are horrendous and the basketball courts aren't even functioning,” Retos said after the meeting. “We've spent an exorbitant amount of money in City Park over the last couple years, both with CDBG money and bond money.

“An amphitheatre is a great idea; it would be beautiful to have. But I can't justify spending $200,000 when two other parks are cosmetically a mess.”

The grant application is for $310,000 and includes money for administration costs and demolition projects within the city, Smith said.

The city had already secured $250,000 in grant money from Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and has $50,000 left over from 2012 CDBG money.

While Democratic mayoral nominee Lou Mavrakis and two council members-elect have called for the money to be used for paving city roads, Retos said the grant money has very limited criteria.

“I can't tear town more houses, I'm capped. … You're very limited and it's money specifically allocated to develop the community,” Retos said. “In theory, the amphitheatre is a go. There is an ability to change that if the monies are not received or the project has not been started by the end of the year. If it laps over to the new council, I'm pretty sure the application will get changed.”

Smith has said she expects the project to begin by November.

“There's going to be more people that want to come and use the amphitheatre and as a result more people will come to Monessen and hopefully eat at our restaurants,” Smiths said. “You have to generate activity here. This is a project we planned on doing from the start and one we need to finish before our term is up.”

Council also took preemptive action on so-called “bottle clubs” — a club that serves drinks to members who have reserved or purchased their own bottles of liquor.

Bottle clubs are not regulated by the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board.

Council first unanimously adopted a resolution to place a referendum on the May 2014 primary ballot on whether residents favor prohibition of bottle clubs.

Second, council held the first reading of a proposed ordinance which would regulate the licensing and operation of bottle clubs within city limits.

Smith said council is expected to vote on the ordinance at next month's agenda meeting, following a second reading. The actions come at the request of police Chief John Mandarino.

“We need to protect ourselves from now until the provision is on the ballot because in between, you can't control anything,” Smith said of the proposed ordinance. “We're being proactive. There have been other places that have had bottle clubs and have nothing but trouble and our police chief advised us that it would be very disruptive if it started in Monessen.”

The meeting didn't finish without some drama during the public comment session, when resident Anthony Orzechowski claimed the city provided an incomplete list of expenditures with minutes of the June 19 meeting.

“Your three minutes are up,” Smith roared.

“Oooooh,” Orzechowski replied, mockingly. “Do you have a problem with my questions?”

“No, your three minutes are up,” Smith said.

“You haven't adhered to that rule the last three meetings I've been here,” Orzechowski said. “Are you going to answer the questions?”

Mavrakis took the podium and finished asking Orzechowski's last question.

“Why is this information not available as a handout each month?” Mavrakis asked the mayor and council.

“This isn't a question-and-answer; it's a comment period,” Smith said. “Make your comments. Let's go. Your time is running out.”

“You're going to do what you want,” Mavrakis replied, before turning away. “It (doesn't) make a bit of difference. You're wasting your time with these people.”

Smith asked if anyone had any more comments.

“Four more months!” Mavrakis said.

After the meeting, Smith said the city is not legally obligated to provide line by line accounts of each expenditure. Retos added that limited manpower in the city's administration office, as well as the sheer number of transactions, would make such a report overwhelming to produce.

“If we provided a detailed report of every bill we paid, nothing would get done and the paper would stack as high as the ceiling,” Retos said. “We don't just write out checks willy nilly. … Our books are audited every year. They go over everything with a fine-tooth comb and if we're not doing something right, they make us correct it.”

In other action, council:

• Approved payment of $2,385 to Steve Schmidt to complete the purchase of a Brown Street Clock to eventually be erected on Donner Avenue.

• Approved demolition of the following properties: 18 Elm St., 540 Summit Ave., 542 Summit Ave., 907 Rostraver St. and 909 Rostraver St.

• Ratified the hiring of part-time police officer Mike Leasure at a salary of $14.25 per hour, retroactive to Aug. 12.

• Reappointed Ronald Barron Sr. to the Mon Valley Sewage Authority Board for a five-year term, effective Jan. 1.

Rick Bruni Jr. is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at or 724-684-2635.

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