POINT PLEASANT — For the third year in a row, Mayor Brian Billings and City Clerk Amber Tatterson, sat down with the Point Pleasant Register to discuss the “State of the City.”
The annual review serves a purpose similar to a “State of the State” or “State of the Union” address insomuch as public officials speak about where they feel the city has been and is headed.
This year’s “State of the City” touched upon everything from dilapidated buildings and financial stability to recreational activities and projects, and more.
Dilapidated properties are a constant topic of discussion in Point Pleasant. Billings and Tatterson said there is some significant progress happening in regards to the Franklin building in the 400-block of Main Street. City officials are in the process of drafting a letter to the USDA to qualify for funds to demolish the Franklin building and the former Wallpaper Outlet on an adjacent property.
The city is also in the process of drawing up bid specifications for the demolition. The USDA money was from a revolving loan fund and was made available to Main Street Point Pleasant, which recommended the City of Point Pleasant apply for assistance for emergency approval to expedite the application. This is not a loan for the city, but free and clear funds to bring the buildings down.
Billings and Tatterson said the Franklin building, which is actually owned by the city, presents a liability issue that needs dealt with, and beyond that, once those buildings come down, it will open up space for further economic development on Main Street. The owner of the former Wallpaper Store will retain the deed to that specific property. Billings said in addition, the city continues to work on cleaning up dilapidated properties in the areas of First Street, Main Street, Ohio Street, North Main Street and Mount Vernon Avenue.
When it comes to the city’s financial situation, Tatterson said the budget has remained consistent in the last few years, with no major changes or significant adjustments, holding steady at around $2.5 million to $2.7 million, annually. Work is to begin soon on the 2016-17 budget to be presented to council in March. Tatterson and Billings report the city currently employs 52 people; 44 of those are full-time. On average, the city’s payroll pays out $183,000 a month which includes salaries and benefits.
There have been projects related to infrastructure the city was mandated to complete, as were many other cities across the country. This included a flood wall certification project which resulted from new federal regulations following Hurricane Katrina. This has been an ongoing certification project that has cost the city around $80,000 over the last few years, with the final leg of that certification now approaching and estimated to cost just under $20,000. Billings and Tatterson said, without the certification, residents would be required to take on flood insurance and that was an expense the administration didn’t want to pass on to citizens.
When it comes to the Point Pleasant Police Department, Billings said Chief Joe Veith reports complaints and crime were down over past years — this based on the number of calls directly to the police department and from 911. Billings said, despite that, he knows Point Pleasant, like other cities, is still facing the issue of drugs and Veith and his officers will continue to combat it, with officers on call 24/7 at the department.
Billings and Tatterson said $55,000 was spent in 2015 when it came to street paving. Billings said the city has 26.5 miles of streets it must maintain and the city has paved close to 20 streets over the past year — this includes some full streets, half streets, intersections, sections of streets, etc. Billings said more streets must be paved which takes time and money from the city’s general fund; days of federal and state help are no more, Billings added.
“This is our responsibility and we must do the best we can,” Billings said about paving.
The city has also been attempting to update its fleet of equipment and has been able to purchase a new backhoe at $82,000 and a Ventrac mower at $24,000 in 2015. Also, this year, the city purchased a new sanitation truck built to the city’s specifications to provide a safer working condition for the sanitation crew, Billings said. The truck will cost around $156,000 and delivery should be in May.
Finally, there are several projects in the works in relation to recreation in the city. These projects include upgrading the walking trail at Krodel Park; the continuing additions to the playground at Krodel Park; additions to the city’s bike trail; and the establishment of a water spray park at Krodel Park. All of these projects are either being funded with grants and donations or both, and all have the support of city council and the administration. The bike trail, playground and walking trail projects are all spearheaded by volunteers, with members of the administration or city council participating within those groups and being volunteers themselves.
Tatterson has worked on the playground committee since it began and said fundraising will begin for Phase II which will be zip lines for kids and a smaller piece of equipment for toddlers. Fencing will also be going up in the future.
Billings said the city is currently searching for grants to pay for the placement of a spray park just beside the playground at Krodel Park and he, along with Tatterson and Councilman Bob Rulen, have traveled to, and spoken with, officials at other municipalities about similar facilities in their communities and how they paid for it.
Volunteers have also secured funding to enhance the Krodel walking trail currently in the engineering phase; and organizers with the bike trail are searching for funding to connect the Krodel Park area with the bike trail in the downtown area, and are purchasing bike racks.
Billings added that he doesn’t want to abandon the city pool in the Harmon Park area. He said he is exploring the idea of filling in the pool and creating a miniature golf course in that space. He said this would be re-purposing the space which is already near families spending time at the Harmon ball fields, providing an activity for downtime between games during the season and long after. He will be getting more information about this proposal for city council in the near future.
However, with the concession stand, restroom facilities, concrete sidewalks, shelter and fencing already in place, he believes the project could be an attainable possibility as a recreational, family activity in Point Pleasant.
Reach Beth Sergent at [email protected] or on Twitter @BSergentWrites.