NEW CASTLE Council mulls ban on open burning

Council is considering a change in the facade improvement program.
NEW CASTLE, Pa. -- There's a burning issue that just won't go away.
It now appears a majority of city council and the mayor will support a ban on open burning. A vote is expected Thursday.
Council members Patricia May, Mark Elisco and Richard DeBlasio favor banning open burning except under certain conditions that include cooking and eliminating health hazards such as disease or pests.
Mayor Timothy Fulkerson said he will go along with the ban, despite his veto two years ago when it passed council in a 3-2 vote.
"I made a mistake when I vetoed it two years ago, but with time comes education. I will not veto it again," he said.
May pointed out health hazards of fumes from burning paper and cardboard, which can become toxic if the fire does not reach a high-enough temperature.
Fire Chief James Donston agreed and said it is also difficult to enforce the burning ordinance.
Residents who pay $10 are allowed to burn paper and cardboard during daylight hours Saturday for two years. Donston said he doesn't have the manpower to issue citations and attend court hearings for violators.
Council members John Russo and Christine Sands support burning. Both say they have received numerous calls from people who want to continue open burning.
Russo noted that all surrounding townships allow opening burning and the smoke and toxins from those fires will travel into the city.
Fulkerson said he's hoping the other communities will follow New Castle's lead and ban it.
The mayor said the county is working on a countywide recycling program that will allow people to drop off cardboard and paper at designated locations.
He noted the City Rescue Mission will go to people's homes to collect newspapers and a collection bin has been set up at the fire station off South Jefferson Street to take paper and cardboard.
DeBlasio added the city normally has a two- or three-month period during which burning is banned because of dry weather.
This summer that ban began in mid-June and will likely continue until the first significant snowfall, Fulkerson said.
Program change sought
Council is expected to make it easier for downtown merchants to fix up their buildings.
City Administrator John DiMuccio asked council to waive a matching-fund requirement for the East Washington Street facade improvement program. Building owners can get up to $20,000 to improve a building's exterior.
The program is funded by a state grant.
DiMuccio said owners will not have to repay the money unless the building remains unoccupied more than a few months.
Fulkerson suggested some of the money be made available to businesses on Mill Street, but DiMuccio said it's vital to downtown redevelopment that East Washington Street be improved first.
Council members said they will give East Washington Street building owners six months to apply for the money and then open it up to other areas.

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