NEW CUMBERLAND - New Cumberland City Council took steps Thursday to boost the city's police department and enforce the city's building code.
Meeting in special session Thursday, council hired two new police officers: Clinton Schon, of Chester, and Kevin Richman, of New Cumberland. Council also selected Donald Longstreth as an alternate in case one of the other men declines the offer.
The candidates are being hired now so they will be ready to attend the West Virginia State Police Academy in Dunbar, W.Va., when classes start again in January. They will be sworn in prior to leaving for training, which lasts 16 weeks, said New Cumberland Police Chief Lester Skinner.
Schon is a reserve deputy with the Hancock County Sheriff's Department, and Richman has taken law enforcement classes at Eastern Gateway Community College in Steubenville, Skinner said. The college has a one-year program whereby students are prepared to test for police certification in Ohio.
The two men are being hired to fill vacancies left when newly sworn Officer Brian Cave departed the academy in July and Patrolman Eric Maruca was hired by the Chester Police Department.
The New Cumberland department is considered at full strength with a chief and three officers. Currently, the department is composed of Skinner, a part-time chief who also is a lieutenant with the Wellsburg Police Department, and Lt. Jeremy Krzys.
Councilman Shawn Marks said he wanted some assurance that the new hires will complete their academy training.
"You're never 100 percent sure," Skinner said.
Mayor Linda McNeil said she was confident the men were the best candidates for the job because they went through a "rigorous" interview process.
"I back the recommendation (from Skinner)," she said.
The applicants also were interviewed by the New Cumberland Police Committee, which is comprised of the mayor, Councilman Brian Webster, Councilwoman Judith Bartley and seven city residents.
Unlike Chester and Hancock County, New Cumberland does not hire its police officers from a civil service list. The city advertised the position and accepted applications. Schon took the Hancock County civil service test in 2011 and scored a 74.
McNeil said the police committee is looking at ways to reduce turnover on the police department.
Also Thursday, council put a lien on a South Chester Street property where the city recently demolished a dilapidated building. The property, owned by Alan Dawson, was one of about 10 that had been condemned by the city years ago, said Marks, who also is the city's building inspector.
"We have a dilapidated building problem in this town. There's no doubt about it," Marks said.
Since becoming mayor in July, McNeil has made the rehabilitation or demolition of unkempt properties one of the main priorities of her administration. The Dawson building was the first to be razed under a new effort to reactivate the city's Building Enforcement Agency and enforce the city's building code, McNeil said.
Marks said since the 10 properties have been condemned by the courts, all of them should come down.
"How do you pick and choose this building over that building?" he said. "We need to appropriate the funds to do all of them, instead of just picking one."
The city spent about $4,500 to demolish the Dawson property and hopes to recoup that money through the lien, McNeil said. Council voted 3-1 to put a lien on the property, with Councilman Pat Jones voting against it.
The lien is a legal tool that allows the city to be reimbursed for its demolition costs if the property ever sells, McNeil said. The lien is good for five years, city Solicitor Kevin Pearl said.
"If somebody buys (the property), you're real likely to get paid, especially if a bank is involved," Pearl said.
In other business, council:
Approved a street sweeper contract with the city of Weirton. The contract will allow New Cumberland to use Weirton's street sweeper once a year at a cost of $948. The cost covers the driver's salary and other related expenses. Weirton City Council approved the intergovernmental agreement earlier this month, but only after Mayor George Kondik cast a tie-breaking vote.
McNeil herself broke a 2-2 tie on Thursday to approve the contract for New Cumberland. "It's either that, or we buy a lot of brooms and hire a lot of kids to do it," she said.
Appointed McNeil as the city's official representative to the Business Development Corporation of the Northern Panhandle. Council joined the BDC earlier this month.
Changed the scope of a $5,000 state grant used to pay for a new divider curtain in the multipurpose room of New Cumberland Municipal Building. The cost of the curtain, which separates the stage from the meeting area, came in lower than expected, McNeil said.
The city will use $800 in leftover grant money to patch and paint the multipurpose room walls.
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