Alleys vex Marietta officials

MARIETTA – Maintaining alleys continues to be an issue facing Marietta officials as dwindling federal and state dollars are spent on the city’s more heavily traveled streets.

It’s frustrating for some Front Street merchants who receive deliveries and provide customer parking off an alley that runs behind their businesses between Greene and Butler streets.

“We have customer and employee parking in back of our building and there’s a lot of traffic in that alley,” said Rob Schafer of Schafer Leather Store at 140 Front St.

He said the parking lot is paved, but the brick alley leading into the lot is rough, and noted the business had paid $1,000 to provide a smooth transition at the lot entrance for vehicles coming out of the alley.

Schafer said minimal parking is available on Front Street near his store, so the back lot is for customer convenience.

“Our customers are No. 1, so they should get the best parking spots,” he said.

Tom Hockenbrocht, who owns Gold Line Jewelers at 150 Front St., noted some limited repairs were made to the alley behind his store in 2011, which provided some improvement, but the roadway needs regular attention.

“A lot of large trucks use the alley to deliver food and other items to these businesses, including some semi trucks,” he said, but added that he understood the city could only do so much with less support from state and federal resources.

“Traditionally we have always tried to do at least one complete alley project every year,” said city engineer Joe Tucker. “We considered issues like the condition of an alley and how many people used it to figure out which area would be best.”

But he said one alley-average length about 900 feet-can cost between $75,000 to $90,000 to repair and pave.

“In some years, when funding was tight, we would only be able to do a partial alley project,” Tucker said.

He noted there was no alley project in 2012, so the money allocated for that year was carried over into 2013.

But council members recently moved that money, about $40,000, out of the alleys line item in the city streets budget, to help pay for a needed paving project on the Parking Partners lot on Second Street.

The alley money will be added to another $40,000 from the city’s Community Development Block Grant budget to fund the parking lot upgrade.

That leaves no money for alley projects in the streets budget for 2013, Tucker said, although he added that alley patching and minor repairs can be made as needed. Marietta Councilman Tom Vukovic, D-4th Ward, and chairman of council’s finance committee, said money was definitely needed to pave the Parking Partners lot.

“That’s a project we’ve been trying to do for some time,” he said. “And we only had $40,000 in the carryover. We can’t do a full alley repair with that amount of money. There was not much we could do.”

Vukovic noted money has to be cost-allocated from the city streets fund to help shore up the general fund every quarter, which effectively cuts the streets fund in half.

The cost allocation into the general fund for streets-related services is done on recommendation from the state auditor’s office.

In addition to the cost allocations, Vukovic said streets fund monies are often used to provide matching funds to leverage grants for streets projects from entities like the Ohio Public Works Commission, Ohio Department of Transportation, and Wood, Washington, Wirt Interstate Planning Commission.

Tucker and Councilman Mike McCauley, D-2nd Ward, have noted one potential source of funding for alley improvements could come from an additional assessment on properties adjacent to the alley, if a large percentage of the property owners along the alley would request it.

But establishing that process would require council approval.