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Controversy erupts during city council meeting

| Thursday, July 14, 2005

It was another night of controversy at Connellsville City Hall.

Council attempted to vote on a number of resolutions; some passed, some didn't.

Resolutions that made their way from the table and were approved were introduced by Mayor Judy Reed. They included closing streets for three upcoming events and creating an Adopt A Lamppost program, where individuals can contribute $1,000 to have a commemorative name plate placed on one of the lamps in the city.

After that, the fireworks started.

Not all council agreed with a motion by Reed to create a city revitalization bank account fund. That is where the mayor wanted to put the money from the new Adopt A Lamppost program. She said the money would be used for the demolition of two structures on properties at 1107 Sycamore St. and 136 S. Pittsburgh St. The structures were destroyed by arsons.

Reed stated that the properties would have a lien attached. But her motion also said "all additional funds collected shall be used for city revitalization by being used as matching funds."

Councilman Charlie Matthews had a problem with the resolution. He wanted to know why only those two properties were chosen.

He was also concerned about creating a resolution that would lock the city into demolishing the buildings with money from the newly adopted program. He had hoped council would consider using some of the approximately $60,000 it would receive from the sale of the HUD house on Washington Street to demolish blighted properties in the city.

"One of the conditions for the use of that money is for removal of blight," said Matthews.

He said there is no guarantee that the city could approve the demolition of the structure on Sycamore Street since the health department only listed it as a nuisance. The structure on Pittsburgh Street, however, was declared a dangerous structure.

"There are procedural guidelines that have to be followed," said Matthews. "Maybe we have to give the (Sycamore Street property) owner time to go and board up the house. I'm not sure we can just go in there and tear it down."

Councilman Bruce Jaynes said Reed just couldn't choose the two properties because of requests from neighboring residents.

"You can't just pick the properties out of thin air," said Jaynes. "There has to be a procedure followed."

Reed said she chose the two structures because they were the only two left from the rash of arsons that hadn't been torn down or were in the process of being torn down.

Council members also did not agree that the matching fund declaration in the resolution.

Solicitor Joseph Ferens also had some problems with the wording of the resolution.

"What happens if you don't get enough money to tear down anything and it (what was collected) just sits in an account?," questioned Ferens. "I think you're searching for a way to help the citizens of the community, but the resolution as it's worded leaves a lot of room for problems."

Reed tried to change her resolution to read that "all additional funds collected shall be used for city revitalization by being used as matching funds for other grants for the City of Connellsville."

Councilman Brad Geyer, who seconded the original motion, said he would like to have her add something that would allow money from the fund to be spent on the demolition of any totally damaged properties that might be a result of future arsons.

Before further action was taken, Councilwoman Chris Wagner asked why the resolution couldn't wait until next month after Reed had a chance to get together with Ferens to work on the wording.

Geyer made a motion to table the resolution. The motion passed. Reed voted no.

She said it was a shame that she was trying to better the city by having the two structures demolished and received no support.

After a few discrepancies pointed out by Reed in two resolutions read by Matthews, council moved on to Geyer's report.

That's when more fireworks occurred.

Geyer made a resolution to partner with South Connellsville Borough to use the city's street sweeper at a fee of $50 per hour.

"The schedule will be set up after the final agreement by both parties depending on the availability of the street department," Geyer read. "This will not affect the current street sweeper schedule or cause any city streets not to be cleaned."

Reed's first complaint was that Geyer was contracting on his own.

"Geyer has no right to contract anything for council, but he does have the right to discuss anything as long as he brings it to city council for approval," Ferens said upon questioning from the mayor.

"So he didn't do anything wrong?" questioned Jaynes.

"No," Ferens said.

The second complaint was that by making this resolution Geyer implied that the street crew had time to just sit around.

"This is just for one hour a month," said Geyer. "I don't think it's too much to ask."

Reed's third complaint was that Geyer wanted to rent a $350,000 piece of equipment for just $50 a month.

"That will adequately cover our expenses with $25 going towards the street worker's salary and the other $25 going towards the equipment," said Geyer. "I think it's a reasonable yet adequate fee."

Wagner said it was just being a good neighbor and she was ashamed of the escalation of the situation.

Reed did not agree.

"I think this is an outrage," she said. "It plain stinks and I can't wait for the taxpayers to let you know."

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