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Utility poles issue still plagues city

| Wednesday, June 25, 2003

Once again, the question of whether to accept PennDOT's recommendation and relocate the utility poles on Ninth Street behind the sidewalk was the topic of discussion by Connellsville City Council.

At council's planning session Tuesday, Mayor Judy Reed shared new information on the issue with council and asked solicitor Joseph Ferens for his opinion.

"My position hasn't changed," said Ferens. "It's a call by council."

Ferens said PennDOT has notified the city of the design standards. If council chooses to ignore that notification and not move the poles, it is opening the city, council and each council member to litigation.

Reed's update on the issue included information provided by Bill McCandless, a Ninth Street resident and spokesman for the 40 residents who recently signed a petition against moving the poles.

The information, which Ferens hasn't been able to confirm, basically states that PennDOT doesn't own a 50-foot right-of-way, but a 30-foot right-of-way (26 feet for the road and 2 feet on each side). The city owns a 10-foot right-of-way (5 feet on each side), which is where the poles would be relocated.

Reed is concerned that if this information is accurate, council would be increasing its risk of litigation. Ferens said it really doesn't matter.

"If someone hits one of those poles and gets killed, you are going to be sued. It doesn't matter whose right-of-way the poles are on," he said.

While Reed wondered if the issue should be brought before council for a vote, other council members said there is no need.

Councilman Bruce Jaynes said the contract for the sidewalk project, which has been approved, includes the relocation of the poles as part of the project. He, along with several other council members, believe city council should not even be involved with the matter.

One issue that requires council's involvement is the issue of money. Councilwoman Judy Keller, who heads the city's accounts and finance department, said the city is facing a serious financial situation because the city treasurer has not deposited tax money in a timely manner.

Earlier in the year, council passed a resolution requesting that Arthur Cappella make deposits in a timely manner. However, Keller said that is not happening.

Last month, Keller reported that there was approximately $100,000 on Cappella's desk that only needed to be deposited. Tax clerk Paula Childs told Keller that amount had doubled to $200,000 and now has been removed from the desk. However, Keller said repeated phone calls to the bank have revealed that the money still hasn't been deposited.

"I'm not accusing Mr. Cappella of anything," said Keller, who said she just wants to inform council.

Reed said it was her understanding that Cappella claims he couldn't make the deposit because he didn't have a key to city hall. Originally, she was going to have a key delivered to Cappella's office in Uniontown by a constable, but decided against it. She made arrangements with the police department for Cappella to get a key, because he reportedly gets into the building through the police station downstairs.

Although the city isn't broke, Keller said it is a serious situation. There is approximately $135,000 in the general fund. Upcoming expenditures include $53,500 for payroll, $1,618 for miscellaneous bills and $3,161 in accounts payable.

"I think it's very sad that the deposit has been prepared and hasn't been taken to the bank," Keller said.

As far as what action council can take, Ferens said any citizen, including those on council, can file a Writ of Mandamus against an elected official for not doing his job. Unfortunately, Ferens said by the time the case would go before a judge, Cappella's term most likely would be expired.

"Do you want to expend taxpayers money to force him to do his job?" asked Ferens.

Ferens said ideally the suit should have been filed last year, but admitted that council members were reluctant to do that.

Cappella is already facing a civil hearing, scheduled on July 17 before District Justice Robert Breakiron, for violations of local tax laws for not filing reports required by the state.

According to city clerk David Pinkosky, city hall is still being inundated with complaints from taxpayers who have paid their tax bills, but still haven't received their canceled checks back from the bank.

In addition, council also discussed:

= Zoning hearing board's recommendation for a zoning variance on 12th Street and Wood Street for a proposed recreational vehicle dealership.

= Plans for the upcoming fireworks display on July 3, including the bicentennial committee's booth to sell pop and snacks, collection for future fireworks display by the chamber, and a disc jockey to play music from 7:30 to 9:30 p.m., sponsored by the city.

= Confiscated bicycle auction.

= Maintenance needed on city's parking lots.

= Repair work on the city garage's roof.

= Opening bids for the Seventh and Eighth Street and alley paving projects at the regular meeting.

= Winter maintenance agreement for snow removal with PennDOT, which is due on June 30.

= Traffic signal maintenance agreement with PennDOT for the newly installed lights at Eighth Street and Crawford Avenue.

= Installation of windows at city hall, and installation of ventilation units and hand dryers in restrooms at East Park.

= Completion of disaster plan for the city.

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