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September 18, 2013

Report on state of Meadville met with skepticism

MEADVILLE — All things considered, the mid-year fiscal status of the City of Meadville is fairly good, City Manager Joe Chriest reported to Meadville City Council during its monthly meeting Monday night.

“Though there isn’t an abundance of funding to address many of the items on our wants and needs list,” Chriest said, “we are still able to provide quality service to our citizens.” However, if the silence and somber looks that greeted the end of his report can be taken as reliable indicators, councilmembers weren’t feeling particularly optimistic.

An extensive review of the city’s new stormwater management program began with a checklist of progress on projects planned for year one of the program.

-A new street sweeper has been purchased.

-While plans called for the replacement of 500 feet of storm sewer lines, 824 feet have already been installed.

-Of the 15 structures identified for replacement, 10 have been installed.

-Erosion repair on Rainbow Lake Dam has been completed.

-More than 800 feet of curb has been replaced.

-Mapping and verifying the system is under way with a GIS database developed and verification ongoing.

A report on the mapping and verification of the system now under way presented by Allegheny College senior Ian Arturo, who has worked for the city as both an intern and a paid summer employee during the past three years, touched on the impact of city staff-cutting over the years.

Arturo explained that when Nathan Zieziula of Meadville Area Sewer Authority attempted to combine a paper map dating back to January 1942 that has been used ever since by the city’s streets department to record all repairs to the system and PDF maps created during the 1970s, connections to more than 300 catch basins and manholes were unable to be verified and many examples were found of the paper and PDF maps disagreeing. As a result, Arturo spent the summer walking through the town, comparing both maps to both an aerial survey of the city conducted in April 2012 and what he found on the street. He then attempted to identify exactly what was connected to what. Many of the city’s manhole covers are so old that they aren’t labeled to indicate whether they’re sanitary or storm sewer, he added.

“We used to have a well-staffed engineering department with between seven and eight people who would update our maps as soon as any work was done,” Chriest said. However, with cuts in budgets and staff over the past decade that have reduced the city’s engineering department to Chriest, who wears the hats of both city manager and city engineer, “that hasn’t happened,” Chriest said. “That’s what Ian was working on.”

Major stormwater projects include replacement and relocation of more than 500 feet of 24-inch storm line on Mount Hope Street. Chriest explained that the original line was discovered to be blocked when a large sinkhole developed in the back yard of a Mount Hope Street residence.

Councilmember Nancy Mangilo-Bittner wanted to know why city employees were assigned to work on the Mount Hope project instead of outside contractors being hired when catch basins throughout the city still aren’t being cleaned out on a regular basis. Mangilo-Bittner said she wants funds raised through the city’s new stormwater management fee to be used to hire another person to work in the streets department.

Chriest noted that if no stormwater fees had been collected, the city might have had to take money out of the funding allocated for paving to pay for the Mount Hope project.

“I’m glad that stormwater expense is being shared by everyone in the city and not just property taxpayers,” Councilmember LeRoy Stearns said. The city’s annual stormwater fee is collected from all property owners regardless of the property’s tax-exempt status.

According to Chriest’s report, the city invested approximately $600,000 to resurface more than 58,000 square yards of roadway during the current construction season. In addition, the city realigned its fleet, purchasing three new trucks for the public works department.

“Two smaller trucks were purchased for the price of one larger truck and provide us with more flexibility,” Chriest said.

However, maintaining the city’s aging infrastructure continues to present a serious challenge.

For example, the city owns and maintains a total of 14 bridges crossing Mill Run, but only three bridges have been replaced in the past 20 years, including the North Main Street Bridge between North Street and Diamond Park that was replaced at a cost of approximately $350,000 in 2010. Chriest estimated that the Grove Street bridge, which should be replaced in the next few years, is expected to cost significantly more than the North Main Street bridge.

In addition, playground equipment needs ongoing maintenance and updating; the David Mead Log Cabin in Bicentennial Park needs repairs and reconstruction; the city’s parking lots need to be resurfaced in the near future; the Water Street parking garage needs extensive repairs; and if the city is going to begin enforcing sidewalk codes in the spring, it must put city-owned sidewalks into acceptable condition, Chriest said.

Mary Spicer can be reached at 724-6370 or by email at mspicer@meadvilletribune.com.

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