EAST LIVERPOOL - With Liverpool Township officials in the audience, City Council's street committee on Tuesday debated the issue of whether or not detaching several state highways from the city makes good sense.
Service-Safety Director Ryan Estell has been researching the issue at length since it surfaced during a recent conference call with the Ohio Department of Transportation regarding maintenance of state Routes 7, 11, 30 and 39 which run through the city.
In an interview last week, Estell explained the three options available to the city for maintaining the highways, one of which is detaching - essentially de-annexing - them from the city's jurisdiction.
At Tuesday's meeting, he told the committee it is still "very early in the process" and that he only brought the subject to light at this point because Councilman Ray Perorazio mentioned it at the last council meeting, expressing his adamant opposition to detachment of the highways.
"We're not trying to spring something on anyone," Estell said, adding that ODOT will not have the complete information needed to make a sound decision until month's end.
He emphasized ODOT is not threatening to take any money from the city's allotment of state funding if the highways are detached and pointed out that a former council already voted unanimously in 1996 to de-annex them, although that plan was never carried out.
"At no point did we say we were going to enforce this ordinance," Estell stressed, adding he is asking council to give "serious consideration" to the possibility.
Estell provided the committee with fact sheets listing the pros and cons of de-annexation of the highways, citing as pros that the city would not longer be responsible for the cost of repairing lighting, electricity bills for lighting, the cost of land or rock slides or repairs to the storm sewer system, mowing, tree trimming and pothole patching nor the 20 percent matching funds for paving planned for 2017 on state Route 7.
On the con side, he listed the possible loss of jurisdiction by the police and fire departments, decreasing the size of the city, the possibility of new boundaries being confusing, the possible creation of an "island" in the Pleasant Heights area and the unknowns regarding responsibility for a water bridge along state Route 30/39.
On the income and expense side, Estell said the 10-year total in police ticket revenue on the highways was $168,142, while expenses for electric, hill slips, storm sewer repair and rock slides totaled nearly $1.2 million over 10 years, excluding the cost of light repairs.
Estell pointed out that East Liverpool is the only community in Columbiana County, to his knowledge, that still assumes responsibility for state highways traveling through its jurisdiction and the only stretch of any length that still has highway lighting.
Although Estell emphasized he is waiting for additional information on the issue, Perorazio said, "We have enough information for most of us to realize this is a bad deal."
Estell cautioned, "You can't easily dismiss this. Once they told us, I began gathering information. Just saying, 'I don't like this' does nothing to help the city."
Perorazio insisted, "I'm not an idiot. I'm a pretty smart guy. This is just another thing that's going to kill this town."
Councilman Ryan Stovall, a St. Clair Township police officer, said the ticket revenue presented by Estell was misleading, since sometimes traffic stops on the highways lead to larger issues, such as drug busts.
Estell asked that council members not make up their minds until all the facts are in, but both Perorazio and Stovall said they are against de-annexing and called for the 1996 ordinance passed by council to be rescinded.
Reserving his decision, Councilman Tom Cunningham said, "It all comes down to being fiscally sound."
A letter from the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 29 which governs city police was presented, stating that it opposes the de-annexation.
"If these highways are de-annexed, the city police and fire departments will no longer be able to respond to any emergencies that take place on these highways, which will no doubt cause a significant increase in response times. The citizens' safety has to come first," the letter stated.
Street committee Chairman Scott Barrett, who serves as St. Clair Township road foreman, said, "If we can't afford to take care of it, let it go," although he admitted he hated the idea of losing the property and jurisdiction for the safety forces.
Perorazio continued his opposition during the City Council meeting that followed the committee meeting, saying other proposals in the past, such as giving water and sewer services to Calcutta and selling the landfill, "looked good on paper."
He said he would like some more answers from ODOT, which is what Estell said will be forthcoming in the near future.
Liverpool Township Trustees Mike Bahen, Steve Betteridge and Keith Burke, and police Chief Jayson Jackson did not comment during the meeting.