WEST ALEXANDRIA — West Alexandria Village Council held a special meeting and work session Tuesday, Jan. 14, to discuss the hiring of a new village administrator. Council then chose to place a job posting for a part-time administrator at its regular bimonthly meeting Tuesday, Jan. 21.
Mayor Jeff Hickey gave council an ultimatum involving the hiring of a new administrator during its Jan. 6 meeting. Steve Weigold, who currently serves as Assistant Chief of Emergency Medical Services (EMS) for the village, was appointed to the village administrator position in Sept. 2018; he tendered his resignation from the post in May 2019.
During last week’s work session, councilwoman Holly Robbins suggested moving to a system utilizing a part-time Village Administrator and a Utilities Committee. The committee would include two or three council members, the superintendent, and the mayor, and would make suggestions to the administrator about how to address various issues.
The administrator would then take these suggestions to council, which would make any final decisions.
This “hybrid model,” according to Robbins, is currently being used by the Village of Arcanum in Darke County and seems to be working well for them. The model’s best feature, Robbins said, is that it gives the administrator less unilateral control over decisions impacting village residents.
“I’ve made no secret that’s a real rub for me,” Robbins said.
Newly elected council member Zach Shafer agreed.
“We’re trying to avoid giving that position too much power and causing trouble for the council, which has happened before,” Shafer said.
Councilman Dan Utsinger had his doubts about the proposal, however, saying it sounded convoluted.
“You’re just adding more steps,” Utsinger said. Under the previous system, the village administrator was responsible for decisions that will now go through a three-tiered process involving the Utilities Committee, administrator, and finally village council.
If the administrator position were eliminated altogether, a Board of Public Affairs would be appointed which would assume responsibility for those decisions. Council president Ashley Myers felt that recruiting qualified people to appoint to the BPA might be difficult, however..
“You’d need to find someone in the village who knows what they’re doing,” Myers said. “And that would be a tough bill to find.”
During their Jan. 21 meeting, council members voted unanimously to post a job announcement for a part-time administrator. The position is expected to work 10-20 hours per week. Applications will be accepted through Feb. 29.
Utsinger also raised the question of returning the village to a schedule of one regularly scheduled meeting per month.
“95 percent of our work should be done outside the meetings anyway,” Utsinger said during the work session. “I think this is a case of more is not always better.”
The village began holding two meetings per month approximately a year and a half ago, according to Mayor Hickey. During council’s Jan. 21 meeting, Hickey proposed an ordinance that would return them to a schedule of one meeting per month, as well as allow village residents to address council for up to 10 minutes during meetings without having to give at least 24 hours notice beforehand.
“I never really liked needing to have notice,” Hickey said. “We want people to bring stuff to us, and if it’s worthwhile enough that they want to come in and talk to us, I think we should listen.”
Council voted unanimously to approve the ordinance; the new meeting schedule will go into effect at the beginning of March.
Mayor Hickey also gave a brief update on the village’s planned wastewater treatment facility, saying the project is expected to be completed May 11 and could come in at about a quarter of a million dollars under budget.
Wastewater Superintendent Jim Hanns recommended hiring a third worker for the water and sewer department, claiming that council’s previously announced plans to wait until spring could leave the department in a bind.
“It leaves us no wiggle room for injuries, illnesses, or even vacations,” Hanns said during his report to the village council. Hanns also indicated it would be ideal for the new worker to be fully trained before the new wastewater treatment facility opens in May.
Mayor Hickey announced that police, fire, and EMS department reports — which had previously been delivered to council on a monthly basis — would move to a quarterly schedule effectively immediately.
“They spend a lot of time getting those reports ready, and it’s mostly redundant information,” Hickey said. Police Chief Tony Gasper gave his report on crime statistics in the village during 2019, saying that numbers had gone down in 27 areas — including assaults, traffic accidents, burglary, and domestic violence — and gone up in nine others, including drug-related calls and cases of telephone harassment.
“For the most part we seem to be on the right track,” Gasper said. “Most of the significant ones have gone down.”
Councilmen Shafer and Utsinger introduced a motion to cash in a $50,000 certificate of deposit held by the village. The funds would be used to purchase and demolish a blighted property located at 10 N. Main St., with approximately $5,000 going toward the purchase of the property and $24,000 expected to be put toward demolition.
Council president Myers raised the possibility of seizing and demolishing the property, then assessing the cost against the owner’s property taxes, rather than going through with a purchase.
“I’m all for cleaning up downtown, but I don’t want to spend $5,000 to buy a property just to demolish it,” Myers said.
Utsinger asked how the village can be expected to clean up downtown without dealing with blighted properties. Councilman Shannon Smith, meanwhile, claimed recovering the cost of a demolition via property taxes could be a lengthy process.
“It could easily be 10 years before we see a dime,” Smith said.
A motion authorizing Shafer and Utsinger to negotiate a purchase agreement with the property’s owner, and secure quotes for the cost of its demolition, at a price not to exceed $30,000 was approved by a margin of four to two, with Myers and councilman Geoff Justice voting against. An emergency ordinance will still be required to allow the village to officially purchase the property.
Council discussed allowing a local church to be partially rezoned as a business during the Jan. 14 work session. Mark Mays, an elder at Community Christian Church and a senior executive at Wilmington, DE-based Church Funerals Direct, previously spoke to council about leasing a small space within the church to serve as a holding room for prepared bodies.
This would allow the building to be licensed as a funeral home facility, according to Mays, though no embalming or other preparation of bodies would take place there. Mays claimed Church Funerals’ business model allows them to offer funeral services to local residents at a substantial discount.
“If the code doesn’t speak against it, I can’t find a reason not to do it,” council member Shannon Smith said of Mays’ proposal. “Can I find any problem with what he’s doing or the people he’s doing it for? No.”
Councilman Shafer agreed.
“A little healthy competition is good for everybody,” Shafer said of the potential impact on other local businesses.
Mays’ request was previously turned down by the local zoning board. A special meeting for council to debate whether or not to uphold the board’s decision will take place Feb. 3.
West Alexandria Village Council meetings are held the first and third Monday of each month at 7 p.m. in the Twin Valley South Middle School Media Center.