By Maralisa Marra
At last week’s Council Meeting on Aug. 29, city officials met at the Otterbein United Methodist Church on the West Side for the August work session because Vice Mayor Maryann Ferris is seeking a grant for a small recreational facility to be put on an empty piece of land at the foot of Drain Hill.
Among ideas discussed included a dog park and a pickleball court.
Ferris is planning to apply for an AARP grant with a December deadline through the city. Ferris said she is on the West Virginia Association of Retired School Employees State Board and the AARP West Virginia Volunteer President sits on the same board which is how Ferris discovered the grant. She said it is called a Challenge Grant, and it is designed to “enable cities, municipalities, or entities, that can be charitable entities also, to complete a short-term project with a little amount of money.”
Ferris also said, “We have been talking as a Council, for a good number of years, about doing something for the citizens of the West Side, so that’s why we’re having this meeting here [at the Otterbein Church]. We hoped that we would have more input from the citizens about what they wanted.”
Few citizens of West Side came to the meeting to express ideas for the project and improvements to their neighborhood. The meeting was promoted on windows throughout town.
Ferris said Council has considered two ideas for the improvements: a dog park or a pickleball court.
“The plot of land that we’re talking about is…when FEMA came in and took some of the buildings that were affected during the flooding,” Ferris said. “One of the rules that they have is that we cannot build a permanent structure on those plots of land.”
Therefore, since the plot of land at the foot of Drain Hill is in a FEMA flood zone, the improvements that Council is hoping to make can only be a minor structure in case of flooding.
City Manager Chad Edwards said an improvement would be permitted so long as it’s not “something that can be removed and cause damage down the river.”
“We would like to offer something for the citizens, for the youth [of West Side],” Ferris added.
Ferris said the application process is due in December, and the AARP foundation makes the announcements about who will receive grant money in June.
In other matters, Council further discussed ideas about building an addition onto the City Building big enough for Council Chambers and a few offices.
Mayor Rodney Strait said Council wants “to add a structure big enough for City Council Chambers” and is looking at including an office for the water department “where people can just walk up to it and pay their bill without having to go up the ramp. Possibly an office for Chad and maybe the mayor.”
Councilmember Patrick Kovalck said, “It doesn’t have to be the Taj Mahal by any means–something we can afford. I think it’s doable for under $400,000.”
He said they still have to appoint a committee at the Building Commission to come up with ideas. “Before we know any facts or what it’s going to cost, we’ve got to come up with some rough design to submit to people for bids,” Kovalck added.
Councilmember Amanda Sayers said she spoke with Duane Blackwell about coming up with some plans since he is an architect. Duane Blackwell is the broker and owner of Blackwell Reality Group, LLC that just opened in the Barrick Center in Shinnston.
“He said he would be happy to do something that didn’t cost a ton, and that we could be proud of in our downtown, so we don’t have to have Council meetings at the Woman’s Club or here [at the Otterbein Church] or wherever, so we have something nice that you guys can come to and be comfortable in,” she said.
Kovalck mentioned that the front porch of the potential addition can also serve as the stage at the Green Space, as well.
Ferris said that the next step in this process would be to put on the next meeting agenda to authorize the city manager to proceed. “We need to authorize our city manager to expend our public funds in doing this and [start] the process rolling. That’s the first step as far as I’m concerned,” she added.
In other matters, Strait said he attended the ribbon cutting ceremony at the airport on Aug. 16 alongside Ferris, Councilmember Julia Currey, and City Clerk Kathleen Panek.
He said, “Governor Jim Justice was also present, and this celebrated leveling of the mountain for expansion to the airport for a new terminal and new businesses moving into the airport complex.”
Strait also said he and Currey attended the Harrison County Chamber of Commerce dinner on Aug. 22.
According to Strait, the city repaired two sewer leaks this past month, and they worked hand and hand with the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection on the repairs. He said one leak was on the rails to trails, and it was an eight-inch line that was clogged with baby wipes and towelettes being flushed down toilet drains.
“This clogs up lines and gets into pumps and tears the pumps up, so we need not to do that,” Strait advised.
Edwards added, “I cannot stress enough, no paper towels, no wipes [flushed down the toilet], and grease–do not dump grease down your sink because that’s what causes deterioration of sewer lines.”
He also said, “I think that our water clerk said it best when she said, ‘Treat your public sewer system like you would a septic tank,’ because it basically is a septic tank for the whole city.”
Strait said, “If you find a sewer leak, have a sewer leak, call the city. We can’t fix it unless it’s reported, and not to depend on social media to get the word out. You need to call the city, so the city workers can take care of that.”
Edwards also reported on his attendance, alongside other city workers, at the Rural Water Conference at Snowshoe on Aug. 13-17. He said, “We got some valuable training and continuing education credits for our operators so they can keep their licenses current.”
Edwards also noted that since the last Council meeting, the police department has lost two officers.
Chief of Police Jon Harbert pointed to negativity toward the department and pay.
“There are things that we have in this city that are valued, and a lot of values, but a lot of negativity is starting to come recently and come towards people in City Council, my department. I believe Council should look at possibly addressing the truth of things that go on. Falsehoods sometimes take precedence over the truth, and that has been happening a lot lately.” He didn’t elaborate.
Shinnston police are paid $16.50 an hour if they are uncertified; certified officers are paid $19 an hour. Bridgeport and Clarksburg pay more, although other factors were unclear, such as benefits and overtime. Bridgeport pays a salary of $39,728 for non-certified and $46,758 for certified. Clarksburg’s starting pay for a probationary officer is a salary of $45,009, and after their one year probation period, they receive a salary of $48,827.
Harbert also said, “If I want to get anybody to protect the citizens of this city that’s going to stay, and want to stay, they’re not going to keep putting up with the childishness for what they get paid.”
In April, the Shinnston News reported Shinnston police made up the biggest portion of the 2022-2023 city budget, with a $626,000 allocation out of nearly $2 million.