LOGAN, W.Va. — Not much has changed in the past month since longtime former mayor Tom Esposito informed the Logan City Council about delays in a four year long paving project that came about following a massive storm that damaged much of the city.
In the interim the city has handled several major repair projects and the monthly “FEMA updates” as they have become known in the city have become a regular part of the town’s monthly council meetings. Federal Emergency Management Agency grants have paid for major repairs and projects in the town and things were progressing rather well, albeit slowly, up until July.
Last month Mayor Serafino Nolletti and City Attorney Kendal Partlow, along Esposito explained in detail the nature of the delays. Esposito has been working with the city on the repair projects for some time now.
The city was supposed to receive a major grant in order to pay for a paving project encapsulating the entire town. However, they were recently informed by Jimmy J. Gianato, director of the State of West Virginia Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, that the city would now have to pay for the alternative project up front and be reimbursed later by his agency.
All along the city had been doing projects in phases. As each phase was completed the funding was provided by FEMA and the next step of the project would begin. The funding was to be 75 percent federal and 25 percent state matching funds.
The city did receive a letter from Gianato’s office stating that the “Public Assistance Program is a reimbursement program.” To make matters worse, when the town had pointed out that the state had paid the city $3,911.73 for one project, Gianato claimed that the town would have to pay that money back claiming it was “erroneously paid” and that the state match “should not have been paid.”
Councilman Basil Ken Lee said he felt that the comment was adding insult to injury.
Mayor Nolletti said that as things stand, the city would have to find a way to pay contractors to do the project first, then wait for a reimbursement from Homeland Security. The city has a deadline of Sept. 4 to have everything in place or it will have to redo the bidding process all over. As the Asphalt plants close in Fall, this could delay the entire process until next year which means the cost for the project would increase the longer it is delayed. Councilwoman Donna Willis said she was disappointed to find out that the town was expected to borrow the money to pay contractors first and get the project done then hope to be reimbursed later.
Esposito said that when the Wilson Camp project began FEMA had told the town they understood it did not have the money to do that renovation and that it provided the money up front. It continued to do that until this summer.
“Now they are saying it is reimbursable, when before they always sent the money up front,” Partlow said. City Accountant Jeff Vallet said the city will have to look into obtaining a loan to pay the contractors up front.
Vallet said the town did have some good news. Some time back the Department of Environmental Protection had socked the city with $114,000 in fines for being out of compliance. Since that time, however, the city had worked with the DEP to bring that amount down and make upgrades. The original amount of the fine has now been lowered to $30,000 and the first $5,000 payment will be coming up in September.
“We appreciate the DEP for working with us, but we still have a long way to go,” Nolletti said. “Things are going to be (financially) tight.”
In other City of Logan news;
• Council approved the payment of $33,000 in bills for the month of July. Vallet noted that some of the month’s bills had arrived late and the council meeting came early this month. Insurance premiums and the bill for tipping fees at the dump from Waste Management were the biggest items in the budget. Vallet said collections were down in July.
• Vallet also discussed a meeting with the pension board to discuss working on funding the pensions for firefighters and police officers in the city.
“We have not been able to come up with enough funds for our firefighters and police officers pensions,” he explained, adding that the city will have to do a complete revamp of its fire fees. Nolletti noted that many other cities across the state have the exact same problem.
• Nolletti said the town was getting ready to move forward on the demolition of two ramshackle structures in town. The project will cost around $15,000. Another structure will require asbestos removal.
• The city’s sprinkler system at town hall has been inspected.
• Council approved for Partlow to draft proposed ordinances for the Sanitation Board and the Water Board in order to ensure they keep one 8th of their operating costs in a savings account.
• Street Commissioner Kevin Marcum said the city had put down 10 tons of asphalt in repairs to paving and that the street department had been very busy with brush cutting this past month.
• Police Chief E.K. Harper said 15 young men had shown up at city hall for the Civil Service Testing to apply for jobs as police officers. Since longtime officer and previous Police Chief Dave White had retired the department has had it rough being down by two officers.
• Harper said his agency took the money it received from the Logan County Commission’s Law Enforcement Levy and purchased a new engine for a surplus police cruiser it obtained from the County. Harper said the engine has a $100,000 mile warranty and in effect it was like getting a new car for six grand.
• Fire Chief Scott Beckett said his agency was swamped recently when more three inches of rain fell in less than thirty minutes leading to drains being clogged and backed up.
• Beckett said that his department handled 84 calls in the past month including one tragic trailer fire where one Logan County citizen lost her life. Beckett said that people needed to be aware of such incidents so that they could understand the value of a working smoke alarm in saving lives.
J.D. Charles is a freelance writer and a former reporter for The Logan Banner.