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Council Warns About Break-Ins, Discusses Changes to Judicial System

By Staff | Jan 23, 2019

Sistersville Mayor Bill Rice posted the following photo on his official Facebook page, showing the garbage truck the City of Sistersville will soon acquire.

Per the suggestion of Councilman Chuck Heinlein, Sistersville City Council will consider the submission of a letter, to be written by Heinlein and signed by council, to the judicial system, addressing issues such as guidelines for bonding.

Heinlein expressed frustration with the judicial system at council’s regular meeting on Jan. 14. He noted his statistics might not be correct but gave a comparison of how an average bond might be $5,000, whereas, for a person who is alleged to have dealt meth, bond is set at $500. “For a person who deals meth, $500 is nothing,” Heinlein noted, suggesting that the guidelines for bonding be revisited.

Heinlein further gave examples of injustices he believes he has observed. He noted an estimated 22 people were arrested over the summer, and estimated that all are out of jail. He said many of the cases have not been adjudicated any further, or at a reasonable pace.

Heinlein’s third point referenced frustration with alleged offenses involving a felon in possession of a firearm. He noted the offense is either a felony of a misdemeanor, depending on what the prosecuting attorney determines.

“I would think we would want that bond revoked, and that person remanded to jail for possession.”

Heinlein’s recommendation to council was that a letter addressing those issues be drafted.

He stated he did not want offenders to be on the streets, though officials might not want to use the regional jail authority because of expenses.

Heinlein suggested the proposed letter be written to the prosecuting attorney, magistrates, circuit court judges, as well as to the state supreme court.

He noted that there might be constrictions on what measures can be taken to remedy the referenced issues, due to guidelines, policy, and law. However, he said the message needed to go “all the way to the Supreme Court, so they know what we are thinking as citizens.”

Heinlein clarified he was not placing blame on law enforcement. “It’s the judicial system and those that partake, that are either bound or constricted by guidelines or policy or the law.”

Heinlein said the judicial system “needs to have a clear review of what is going on” and consider some recommendations “about protecting our citizens first and our criminals last.”

It was suggested that City Attorney Krista Fleegle draft the letter, though Fleegle stated that due to her other role as a special prosecuting attorney, she did not necessarily feel comfortable drafting the letter. She stated she had no problem answering questions as council drafts the letter.

Council approved the measure that Heinlein draft a letter for approval by council.

In another matter, Mayor Rice requested that the city’s residents secure their cars and homes. “Everybody needs to start locking up cards and houses when not home,” he said, explaining that Sistersville Police Chief Rob Haught is involved in ongoing investigations regarding break-ins of businesses. Mayor Rice specified Precision, explaining the business was broken into and sustained damages.

Rice said several items were stolen from the business.

Rice further explained he had worked late a few days recently, and he cited suspicious activity he had observed, involving individuals wandering around town.

“Everyone just needs to lock up and be very careful,” he said, tough he noted the issue of break-ins “doesn’t just stop at our city limit sign.”

In another matter, Timothy Meeks, of the Mid-Ohio Valley Regional Council, attended the meeting and gave an update on the Sistersville Water Systems Improvement Project. Meeks reported the state’s infrastructure council had made the funding recommendation for the project, which was the $1 million grant requested, to go along with a $3.5 million loan at a one percent interest rate for a 40-year contract. The total project cost is $4.55 million.

Relatedly, the city council approved the engineering agreement, provided by Jesse Parker of S&S Engineers, Inc., for the water improvement project.

The city approved the $267,000 expenditure, which will be deducted from project funding.

It was noted the project design would take about three months, and the project would go to bid by mid-summer of 2019. The system would be “up-and-running” in an estimated 12 to 15 months, depending on construction season and weather.

Parker noted funding for the design would not be paid until construction. Meeks recommended the city utilize Steptoe & Johnson to set up interim financing to pay for design as bond counsel for the project.

In another matter, Jason Rice, water/sewer plant operator, offered clarification regarding a water plant violation notice that had appeared in the Tyler Star News.

Rice said the violation stems from a sanitation survey, conducted every three to five years. He said the noted deficiencies had been listed for an estimated 10 years, and violations had never been issued until now.

Rice said many of the violations have already been addressed. “We can fight about six to seven of them, to get them wiped out,” he said of the violations, explaining, “We had the work done before the deadline.”

Rice also clarified that the noted violations do not affect water quality. He praised the current water quality, explaining changes have been made with chemicals after the chief water operator had recommended the use of liquid chemicals, rather than bagged.

Rice referenced the upcoming water project, noting, “Hopefully with the new project, we won’t have to put as much money in the plant itself.” He stated the current plant has “a lot of band-aids.” He said the plant is functioning, but “We’ve got to keep the older stuff going as long as we can.”

The city has been anxiously awaiting FEMA funds, to recoup the loss of a water pump and intake, due to flooding – as well as a pump the city purchased to keep water pumping during flooding. However, two mussel surveys are necessary, and the earliest the survey could be completed is May.

One specific violation Rice reference was the lack of fencing around the water plant. He said the fencing would still be necessary for security purposes, even with the new water system in place.

Also at its Jan. 14 meeting, the city passed the first reading of its garbage rate increase ordinance. After the ordinance is officially passed, the new rate for residences is $19.89 per month. Business rates would be as follows: one pick-up per week, $28.93 (from $24); two pick-ups per week, $72.33 (from $60); three pick-ups per week, $150.68 (from $125); daily pick-up, $421.91 (from $350).

In the meantime, Mayor Rice expressed frustration with the town’s lack of a reliable garbage truck.

He explained the International garbage truck needed a part replaced, and the Freightliner truck was to be towed to Parkersburg the following day. He said one repair shop had communicated that it could diagnose and repair the problems with the Freightliner, if the city arranged for the truck to be transported to the shop. Rice noted the cost for towing the truck is $600, which “is better than what we have been paying.”

According to the mayor, city officials have also been working diligently to obtain financing for a new garbage truck. Rice said Hills International had recommended a company, which sent the city a loan application.

Councilman Heinlein questioned if the local banks had refused financing.

Not necessarily, according to Rice. He referenced a possible meeting with Wesbanco and stated that Union Bank wanted the city to first have an audit conducted. Rice said the city couldn’t afford the cost of such.

Rice said Peoples Bank representatives had just recently reached out to him as well.

Rice was asked if the city has its other loans financed through Union Bank, and this was confirmed by Recorder Heather Rice, who agreed the city was actively making regular payments.

She stated Union Bank was apprehensive about financing the truck, due to the large cost of more than $100,000.

Mayor Rice further expressed his frustration and stated that if the city could not get the situation of garbage collection resolved, it may want to explore the option of Solid Waste Services for garbage pick-up.

Notably, on Friday, Jan. 18, Mayor Rice announced the city was acquiring the new garbage truck. He thanked Peoples Bank for “having the confidence in us to give us the financing.”

Mayor Rice further thanked First National Bank in Wheeling for making an offer, as well as Wesbanco for making an officer.

“We have secured the loan for 4.6 percent over 84 months.”

“Also thank you to all our residents for being so patient with the issue. The rate increase will guarantee we should never be in this condition again.”

In other matters at its Jan. 11 meeting, council addressed a complaint by residents who were frustrated with water in their basement, due to drainage issues. It was noted the water could be flowing across the street above the home, and over the hillside and into the back of the home. It was noted the mayor and other town personnel would further explore the issue and a solution.

Council approved the following payment of bills: purchasing card, $35,435.78; city bills, $26,334.52; hospital accounts payable, $468,341; hospital payroll, $368,047.

Mayor Rice was asked about the youth leagues making payment for heat and electric at the Willison Center. Mayor Rice noted that leagues make regular payment every month and complimented the leagues for always being conscientious of doing such.

Mayor Rice also reported that “Welcome to Sistersville” signs would be erected soon, explaining the final signs were being adjusted at the Mid-Ohio Valley Technical Institute.

Also, it was reported that Attorney Fleegle is still working on the town’s public nuisance ordinance.

In final matters, the city went into executive session to address personnel matters involving a resident’s complaint toward the police department.