WEIRTON - Later today, Weirton city officials will find out how much money they'll have to borrow to pay for a major sewage system upgrade.
Utilities Director A.D. "Butch" Mastrantoni told council they'll be opening the bids for Phase II at 2 p.m. today at the sanitary board's office on Freedom Way.
"We had a very good response at the pre-bid conference, which was a requirement to bid," he said. "We're looking forward to a good bit of contractor participation."
City officials had estimated the work would cost in the neighborhood of $5.8 million to $5.9 million from start to finish, but until bids are opened they won't know for sure how accurate their projections were.
City Council on Monday heard the first reading of an ordinance authorizing up to $6.3 million in sewer revenue bonds. The proposal will have to pass two more readings.
Several council members, however, voiced concern that the bond ceiling specified in the ordinance was about a half-million dollars above the estimated cost. Council had signed off on a rate hike plan two years ago predicated on the $5.9 million estimated project cost, and members made it clear they don't want to have to revisit it so controlling costs is a priority.
"Our rates are set for a $5.9 million project," Ward 7 Councilman Terry Weigel said.
The city's bond consultant, however, said the $6.3 million bond ceiling was precautionary. In the event that bids come in above estimate, the city would be positioned to address it "without having to go back through the bid process again," a Steptoe & Johnson consultant said.
"There will not be any bonds issued" until council signs off on the amount, he reiterated. "Depending on what the bids come in at, you could raise or lower rates."
The first phase of the sewage overhaul, necessitated by discharges in violation of federal environmental standards, involved laying about 4,700 lineal feet of gravity sewer to route sanitary flow from some 1,000 structures along Pennsylvania Avenue and nearby neighborhoods up Old Main Street to the 5th Street Lift Station. Phase II is a new 16-inch main that will take the sanitary flow from the lift station all the way to the Freedom Way treatment plant about six miles away, where it will be treated and then released into the Ohio.
The discharges were undetected for years. Once the problem was discovered, however, city officials self-reported the problem, thereby avoiding stiff fines.
Council, meanwhile, took under advisement Human Rights Commission Chairman Bill Zanieski's concern that three members have tendered resignations, the terms of a number of others have expired and they've not had a business meeting in months.
"In recent months, maybe the better half of a year, we've not had a quorum," he said, "... (so) we're there just talking for 15 or 20 minutes."
Zanieski said that over the course of his six years as chairman "we've done one investigation and had one person come in three or four (times). That's it." He said messages left on the commission's voicemail typically are "hang-ups, expletives and people wanting directions."
"Probably the first legitimate complaint we've had in a long, long time" involved police and had to be referred to the state human rights commission, Zanieski said.
"I'm not pushing you to do away with the commission," he added. "(I'm just) putting the ball in your court as to what should be done."
Several council members, however, voiced reluctance to disband the commission, saying if nothing else it could present problems if an issue were to arise down the road.
"I'm hard-pressed to find somebody who wants to serve on committees, and like you said, there's nothing (for them) to do," Ward 2 Councilman Chuck Wright told Zanieski. "I don't see a need to have (meetings) if there's nothing for them to do, not that I don't want a mechanism in place" to address complaints.
"Maybe don't dismantle it," suggested City Manager Valerie Means. "Maybe (the commission) should just be on hiatus until there's a need."
After the meeting, Wright said the real issue seems to be "there's no complaints" for the commission to address.
"If nobody is going to complain, I can't see the purpose of having something in place that's not being utilized," he said. "But rather than do away with it completely, cut back on the number of meetings."
In other business, council passed resolutions:
Authorizing Weirton's 2014 per capita contribution to Brooke-Hancock-Jefferson Metropolitan Planning Commission and payment of their 2013-14 Municipal League dues.
Renewing the service contract for the city's accounting software.
Authorizing a training seminar for city firefighters. Squads throughout Brooke and Hancock counties as well as Paris, Pa., and Steubenville will be invited to participate.
For the purchase of two 2014 Ford utility vehicles and a 2014 interceptor sedan for the police department.
Placing liens against a property on Cove Road to recoup demolition costs
Council also heard the first reading of ordinances authorizing a 90-foot yellow line on the west side of Locust Street, a 4-foot yellow line on each side of a driveway at 512 Locust St. and a 4-foot yellow line on each side of the entrance to Lynn Court.
An ordinance requesting a handicapped parking space at 4122 Washington St. passed on an emergency basis.
(Harris can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)