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East Liverpool at-large council candidates run uncontested

EAST LIVERPOOL — Although they are running uncontested for at-large city council, two of the candidates took advantage of the opportunity to address some of the issues facing their constituents.

Incumbent John Mercer and former at-large councilman and mayoral candidate Brian Kerr will be seeking two of the city’s three at-large council seats, which are voted on by residents in all four of the city wards.

Candidate Robert Nizer Jr. didn’t respond to attempts to get additional information regarding his candidacy. He is running uncontested along with Kerr and Mercer.

The city’s police department has had its hurdles over the past few years, ranging from lackluster recruiting to its absence of an officer assigned to the Columbiana County Drug Task Force and in local schools due to manpower shortages. Both men were asked on how to help remedy those situations.

Kerr pointed out that this is not a unique situation to East Liverpool.

“Police officers are not respected as they once were, which is just wrong. (They) risk their lives every day to serve the public,” he said, even pointing to communities who are having to offer a $20,000 sign-on bonus to attract officers.

However, he thinks the city’s health insurance might be a major hurdle. “Most, if not all of the surrounding police departments, pay nothing or very little for health insurance. That is not the case for our officers. The first thing I would like to do is sit down with the administration and see what can be done to lower our health insurance for all city employees,” he explained.

Mercer believes the city’s efforts to boost the wages for East Liverpool police officers was a step in the right direction; however, he isn’t sure that is a quick fix.

“(While) increasing wages was the right thing to do, I think our bigger issue is a lack of workforce in the community. We can (attract people) if we offer competitive wages and run a department in which people want to work,” he said.

Giving up $50,000 in funds due to an inability to provide a school resource officer was the wrong thing to do, both candidates agreed.

Describing it as “an administrative issue,” Mercer said that city council plays no role “in how the police department, or any department, is run; however, he said that it shouldn’t have happened nor should it happen in the future.

Kerr said that keeping the youth safe in school against harm should be a top priority, and the initial agreement did that. The salary of the assigned officer is paid by the school, he pointed out, so “if there is no school for the day, that officer is out on the streets patrolling with little or no cost to the tax payers.”

The state of the current Central Fire Station has generated much concern over the past years, as it continues to deteriorate. Many theorize abandoning that building for a new station might be more financially sound than trying to renovate the current building.

Kerr agreed that might be the best strategy.

“Yes, Central Fire Station needs torn down. No more money should be put into that building. It is unsafe just like the Car Barn, (which currently houses street department operations), but we continue to use both of the buildings to house equipment and employees. It is a shame,” he said.

Mercer, however, responded, “Again, money is the city’s biggest issue. I think that we should explore a new central fire station while making necessary repairs to the existing building. Even if funds are raised to build a new fire station, that will take time and the current building must be safe for the fire fighters.”

Speaking of the Car Barn, Kerr believes it needs razed as well. He remains unconvinced that the cost of new buildings would pay for itself over time. “We keep throwing money into these buildings,” he added.

“There is no excuse that the Car Barn has been allowed to deteriorate to this point,” Mercer agreed. “How many city administrations ignored it? This is a situation, like so many others, where we (city council and the administration) are dealing with problems that should have been dealt with 15, 20 or even 30 years ago. Relocating the services housed in the Car Barn needs to be one of our top priorities. The solution could be state or federal funding, state loans, and even selling the property to a commercial developer. We don’t have an answer, but we need to find one sooner than later.”

Money seems to be a major issue with many of the ills that face this city, and there has been discussion over the past year with potentially outsourcing income tax collections. Both candidates are willing to give the Regional Income Tax Agency (R.I.T.A.) consideration.

“The city lives off of the taxes, so any way that we can approve collection (efforts) and make it fair for all taxpayers, I am for it. I pay taxes in different municipalities due to my business (locations), and R.I.T.A. is a simple form and well done. The city wants multiple copies, and at times, it takes months for checks to be cashed,” explained Kerr.

As many as 70 percent of city residents don’t currently pay income tax, Mercer said that he has heard. Yes, that could be because they are retired, disabled or minors, but he also is sure many people living in East Liverpool and working elsewhere don’t pay their share.

“I’m not sure we know that number, but it would seem that a program like R.I.T.A. has an advantage (due to its) connectedness with the federal tax system. City council didn’t fully explore switching to R.I.T.A., but I am open to it — especially if we keep a liaison in the tax office to assist taxpayers,” he said.

In addition to the at-large council race, the following are running uncontested to keep their seats: John Torma, seeking re-election as city council president; C. Fred Rayl, second ward councilman; Jeffrey Kreefer, third ward councilman; Scott Barrett, fourth ward councilman.

First ward councilman Ray Perorazio will be looking to hold off the challenge of Tom Beagle.

Deb Fickes will be challenged by former city auditor Terry Sprague for her city treasurer post. Both women are write-ins.

Larry Walton, Matt Handley and Tamar Cooper are all seeking to hold onto their East Liverpool school board seats.

In the townships, Mike Bahen and Dennis Giambroni are being challenged by Brian Miller for their Liverpool Township trustee posts, while Doug Blaner is challenging incumbents Bob Swickard and Jim Sabatini for their St. Clair Township trustee seats.

Carnegie Public Library is seeking to renew its five-year, 2-mill levy and did not respond to requests for further information on their issue, which is up for renewal.

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