Youngstown council refuses consulting contracts

By David Skolnick

The problems will be discussed at a council community-development agency meeting.

YOUNGSTOWN — City council refused to approve two consulting contracts, citing a lack of communication about the requests from department heads — a complaint council members have made over the past few months.

Councilwoman Janet Tarpley, D-6th, warned Wednesday that if department heads don’t do a better job of informing council members about legislation before it’s on council’s agenda for a vote, “we’ll go into another mode.”

That “mode” would be to refuse to approve certain legislation, she said. “We don’t want to go to that.”

Council President Charles Sammarone said this has been a problem the last few meetings, and when that happened in the past, previous councils wouldn’t support legislation.

Mayor Jay Williams expressed concerns about the remarks by some council members about department heads.

“The other mode Councilwoman Tarpley is referring to won’t be productive,” Williams said.

The mayor added, “The mode we should shift to is productivity. By shifting into a mode of not working together, we’ll all find ourselves out on the street corner.”

Some council members complained that more information was needed before they could vote on two consulting agreements.

One proposal was to hire Maureen O’Neill for $40,050 to develop and implement a rental-property registration program. She started doing the work in October, and her contract, if approved, would end March 31, 2011.

The other contract proposal is to pay $30,000 to Robert Weily for a year, retroactive to October, to identify properties the city could purchase, rehabilitate and sell. Those are requirements under a $2.7 million federal Neighborhood Stabilization Program grant the city obtained last year.

Both consulting deals would be funded with NSP money.

The decision to postpone voting on these two proposals comes only a few weeks after council refused to hire Steve Novotny as a consultant using a $39,000 state grant to develop a housing- deconstruction plan.

Councilman DeMaine Kitchen, D-2nd, who is vice chairman of council’s community- development agency committee, specifically blamed Bill D’Avignon, the city’s CDA director, for not keeping council informed of these contract proposals.

Kitchen said D’Avignon is avoiding council CDA members and was inefficient.

When asked to comment on Kitchen’s comments, D’Avignon said: “I have no idea what’s going on. I’m trying to do my job. I’m trying to figure out where this is coming from. I don’t have an issue with CDA members. How am I inefficient?”

The problems will be discussed further Monday.

Council’s CDA committee will meet Monday to further discuss the three consulting contracts. D’Avignon said he’ll be at the meeting.

Meanwhile, council approved a 9.8 percent annual sewer-rate increase for five years, beginning Jan. 1, to help Youngstown raise the money to comply with federal standards.

The city needs to raise about $150 million over 20 years to comply with guidelines in the federal Clean Water Act related to its treatment of wastewater.

The city is required by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to build catch basins to help stop overflows of sewage into homes during heavy storms.

An average family of four pays $31.20 a month in sewer rates. That will increase to $34.25 next month and rise to $49.78 a month in January 2014.

About 63 percent of the city’s sewage-system customers live in Youngstown. The others are in surrounding communities.

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