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Belpre Council approves budget supplement

BELPRE — City Council approved a supplemental budget appropriation resolution this week, including more than $130,000 in COVID-19 relief funds.

The unanimous vote took place in a meeting conducted via the Zoom app, during which some residents and city officials discussed the drawbacks of the remote sessions and possible alternatives.

Council passed the third reading of the supplemental appropriations ordinance, which included the addition of $131,000 from the federal C.A.R.E.S. Act through the state of Ohio.

Auditor Leslie Pittenger said $21,000 will be spent on cleaning and sanitizing all park restrooms, playground equipment and other items, while $10,000 will go to reimburse the city for COVID-related expenses like cleaning supplies, protective equipment and wages for police officers who had to self-quarantine after being tested for the virus.

The remaining $100,000 is budgeted for “small equipment,” which could include devices to sanitize rooms and vehicles and touchless equipment for restrooms.

“If we don’t have these funds encumbered by the middle of October, we have to give them back,” Pittenger said.

The resolution also included $100,000 to replace failed water meters. That’s reduced from $350,000 originally planned to replace more meters but was left out of the budget due to a computer error.

The resolution reflects approximately $250,000 in budget reductions based on reductions to city revenue caused by the coronavirus pandemic and the limiting of acitivites to slow the spread.

The pandemic also limits the number of people allowed at a meeting, necessitating the use of Zoom.

City Law Director Tom Webster said local health officials determined council falls under the general meetings guideline, allowing no more than 10 people.

An ordinance requiring a back water valve on newly constructed homes – and existing ones in certain circumstances – was the topic of a Utilities Committee meeting on Zoom prior to the council session. A number of residents participated and audio feedback and multiple people trying to speak at once made it difficult to hear at times.

When Councilwoman Judith Drake announced during council that another committee meeting on the topic would be scheduled, Webster suggested looking at a different format.

“As many people as we had earlier, I don’t think we can have an indoor meeting,” he said.

With other committee meetings being discussed, Councilwoman Donna Miller said that until in-person meetings could resume, perhaps some efforts could wait.

“Let’s do the things that have to be done for the city, and some of the other things, let’s put them on hold for a while,” she said.

Belpre resident Sandy Elder asked if a meeting could be held at Civitan Park, using a public address system. Resident B. J. Cassady said council meetings should be in person, to facilitate conversation and allow documents to be handed out.

“I hope that we will look at something better, possibly Facebook or even Teams,” he said.

Councilman Bill Locke said Zoom isn’t perfect, but suggested sound quality would be a problem if they met outside.

Miller said council might inadvertently be creating an impression they were trying to get certain things done without public scrutiny.

Council President Larry Martin said some items cannot wait to be addressed.

“Some of this legislation has to be passed in order to keep the city operating,” he said. “We’re not doing anything below the table.”

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