Council wants permanent place to meet

Marietta City Council members met as a committee of the whole Wednesday to discuss the possibility of developing a permanent space where council and committee meetings could be located.

Current council committee sessions are held in the second floor conference room at 304 Putnam St., while the twice-a-month regular council meetings are conducted in the community building at Lookout Park on Harmar Hill.

“My main objection to Lookout Park is that it’s too remote,” said council president Walt Brothers. “I would rather have a location closer to the downtown area.”

Neither of the current meeting locations is easily accessible for people with disabilities, and committee meetings in the room at 304 Putnam St. are often overcrowded, forcing some attendees to stand or sit outside the room in an adjacent hallway.

Current preliminary plans for renovation of Marietta’s City Hall building show a city council chambers or general meeting area located in the basement, but council members on Wednesday did not support that location, noting access to the basement room would be difficult for the general public.

The possibility of creating council chambers in the renovated National Guard Armory was also negated due to cost liabilities for the city.

“It looks like we’re coming down to a room in the basement of the new municipal court building (on the corner of Third and Butler streets) or a location on the first floor of the building across the way (at 308 Putnam St.),” Brother said.

City engineer Joe Tucker said he had discussed the potential location of city council chambers in the above-ground basement area of the municipal court with Judge Janet Dyar Welch.

“I didn’t want to spend time working on plans for that area if it’s not going to be acceptable to the judge,” Tucker said. “But she was pretty busy at the time and said she would have to take some time to think about it.”

Brothers noted the ground floor of 308 Putnam St., which currently houses the city auditor and treasurer’s offices, would be available for a council chamber after those offices move to the city hall building once renovations are completed there.

“I think we should look at both of those locations,” he said. “But I would look at the municipal court location first.”

Councilman Tom Vukovic, D-4th Ward, said if 308 Putnam is selected it would require renovation of that building as well as a new roof, which would be costly.

Tucker agreed.

“The financial analysis would favor the municipal court area,” he said. “Then the city could sell 308 Putnam and not be burdened with future operation and maintenance costs there.”

Brothers said he would approach Welch about the possibility of locating the chambers at the municipal court site.

In other business Wednesday, Tucker suggested that members of council’s streets and transportation committee consider developing a right of way ordinance that would govern use of city rights of way by utility companies.

“Around 2005 or 2006 we started talking about a right of way ordinance, and in 2009 council hired City Communications Consultants Ltd. of Columbus to do an assessment and help develop a draft ordinance,” he said. “When we got to the point of a final draft there were concerns about how the ordinance would be implemented, and one concern was how to track the time the city would have to spend checking on utilities working in the right of way.”

The issue was shelved at that time, but Tucker said now may be a good time to reconsider the ordinance as the city’s New World software, currently being installed, has a time-tracking component that would enable the city to keep record of time spent on right of way issues.

“The public right of way is a city asset, and a lot of utility companies use that asset,” he said. “We need to do a much better job of managing our right of way, and costs should be recovered from companies operating in those areas.”

Tucker said utility companies would not be in favor of a right of way ordinance, but as a home rule municipality the city has the right to set such regulations.

The committee members agreed, and Tucker said he would arrange for David Haney, managing principal with City Telecommunications, to meet with the committee in the next couple of weeks to review the originally-proposed ordinance and discuss how the city should proceed.

Also on Wednesday, Eric Lambert, project manager with the city engineering department, said the department would like to conduct a citywide needs assessment of stormwater issues.

“We usually address stormwater needs as part of our streets projects,” he said, but added that stormwater should be considered as a separate issue with its own source of funding.

“We want to define our stormwater problems citywide,” Lambert said.

Tucker said stormwater issues are one of the concerns that upset city residents the most.

“We have stormwater problems all over the city,” he said. “But we’re addressing those as a knee-jerk reaction. And we do not track how much the city spends on stormwater issues, although those repairs eat into our streets fund.”

A professional needs assessment of the city’s stormwater issues could cost between $25,000 to $50,000, Tucker said, adding that he is not suggesting that the study be done this year.

“But I would like to see that cost built into our budget and get council’s backing for this assessment,” he said.

Asked how an annual stormwater line item in the city budget would be funded once the analysis is completed, Tucker noted that many cities-including Williamstown just across the river-assess a stormwater user fee that’s collected through the water and sewer bills of residents and businesses.

But Vukovic questioned that idea.

“How do you convince the community that this is the right thing to do when we’ve been getting by for years without such a fee?” he asked. “How do you sell this idea to the public?”

Tucker said doing a stormwater needs analysis would not mean that a fee would have to be assessed, but it would show what costs the city would face to address stormwater concerns.

“But it’s expensive to deal with these problems on a reactionary basis as we do now,” he said. “And it’s not a good way to manage our assets.”

Tucker said he would pursue funding to help pay for the needs assessment if the committee members want him to proceed with the proposal.

“I think we’re all for that,” said streets committee chairman Denver Abicht, D-at large.