Vienna City Council discusses relief fund, Johns Manville property

VIENNA — Vienna City Council met Thursday evening to discuss an update on the Small Business Relief Fund, dead and diseased tree removal and progress on the Johns Manville property.

The dead and diseased tree ordinance was passed unanimously for its final reading. The ordinance gives the Vienna Tree and Beautification Commission or the city authority to remove trees that constitute a “public hazard to safety” within city limits.

Grant coordinator Toni Tiano also updated council on the Small Business Relief Fund for small businesses in the city that have been impacted by COVID-19.

“We are very close to having the program officially launched and we hope to have it launched within the next week or so,” Tiano said. “We have been working with the city of Parkersburg who has been doing a similar plan and the Mid-Ohio Valley Regional Council.”

Ways to tell if a small business is eligible for the Vienna program include:

* Must be located in the corporation limits of the city of Vienna

* Must have been in business for at least one year as of March 1, 2020.

* Must be in good standing with city fee payment as of Dec. 31, 2019.

* Must be low- to moderate-income business owners and/or businesses that employ or previously employed at least 51 percent of low- to moderate-income workers.

* Must employ no greater than 25 full-time low- to moderate-income workers during the application cycle.

Applications will be reviewed and chosen by the regional council, according to Tiano. Assistance will be structured as a forgivable loan and can be used for capital expenses.

All eligible businesses can apply for up to $5,000 and the maximum amount per project possible to be awarded is $10,000. Eligible businesses can also apply to receive an additional $500 per low- to moderate-income worker.

Councilmember Jim Leach then provided an update on the Johns Manville property.

“The riverside portion of the property was submitted for state approval on Sept. 15,” Leach said. “I am hoping within the next 30 to 60 days we will get approval on that.”

Leach explained that on the former production side of the plant site there were levels of PCBs, known as polychlorinated biphenyls or industrial compounds, that were above an acceptable amount and a report went to the West Virginia Environmental Protection Agency, which gave the project the go-ahead to continue after an analysis.

“I was really pleased to get the response from the EPA that we can continue with the program,” Leach said. “I hope perhaps by the end of the year we will have this finished.”

Despite this clearance, Leach explained that PCB levels are still high in certain areas and that potential buyers of these portions of the property will need to adhere to the requirements of the Department of Environmental Protection during development and usage.

“By and large in any area of concern potential buyers will have a good understanding of this,” Leach said. “It’s not unmanageable.”

Councilmember Roger Conley posed concern in regards to the pace that the Johns Manville project is proceeding at and expressed his desire for more work to be done in preparation for economic development and buyer interests.

“There’s several things we need to be doing and looking at while we are waiting for more clearance from the Department of Environmental Protection …” Conley said. “Wouldn’t it be prudent to do return on investment and financial modeling?”

Mayor Randall Rapp responded and explained that although he has been in contact with an economic development agency based in Akron, Ohio, the property simply is not at the market-ready phase.

Other business included:

* Unanimous passage of the 2020 Replacement Pages to codified ordinances that conform with current state law.

* Various councilmember discussions mentioned the freezing of the $500,000 paving projects that were set to occur this year throughout Vienna but were frozen due to revenue unpredictability in light of COVID-19, according to Rapp.

Conley and Councilmember Mike Elam expressed their concern with the city’s spending priorities, citing the passage of the re-painting of the Vienna Senior Center that was approved at the Sept. 10 meeting and expressing that they would prefer funds be used towards streets and sidewalk improvements.

Rapp responded with an explanation that $500,000 is not quite comparable to a less than $20,000 project and that the city could afford to continue these budgeted items because of funds received from the CARES Act.

Jenna Pierson can be reached at jpierson@newsandsentinel.com


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