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Ice storm clean-up still a hot topic

By DARREL RADFORD - dradford@thecouriertimes.com

Remnants of last month’s ice storm became a hot topic at Monday’s New Castle Board of Public Works and Safety meeting when city officials expressed concern street department services are being abused in ongoing clean-up efforts.

City Attorney David Copenhaver brought up the topic, reporting he thought a private firm was in process of cleaning up a property on Main Street, only to see piles of limbs and brush left behind for local crews to pick up.

“Are we picking those up?” Copenhaver asked. “I thought I saw a tree trimmer there.”

“I know the ice storm brought them down,” Street Commissioner Lee Walker said. “It’s up to the homeowner to cut them down to ordinance-size brush piles and then call to let us know. The one that concerns me the most is just past Indiana Avenue there on Main Street. They called and asked us to come pick those up, but if my memory serves me correctly about two days after the ice storm a professional tree service was there, cutting down more of the trees and piling the brush up. It’s a mess. They’re horribly stacked. It would probably take us a half a day or better to pick all of that up.” 

Mayor Greg York emphasized “it’s not the city’s job” to haul that debris away – especially if a professional tree-trimming company is on the scene.

“If someone hires a tree trimmer to remove part of a tree that’s broken or split, they need to have that tree trimmer remove everything,” York said. “They think the city will pick that up. But in all reality, they own the tree and it’s up to the homeowners to have it removed. The city does not own those trees unless they’re in a park, so it’s up to the homeowner to have that tree properly disposed of. The city’s obligation is to have the roadway clear and to clean up the minor debris.

“What’s frustrating for me,” York continued, “is when somebody will take out eight shrubs in front of the house and set them out in front of the curb for us to pick up. We’re not in the tree-trimming business. We’re not in the shrubbery removal business. There’s a fine line and they try to push more on the city than legally they should.”

City ordinance says approximately five-foot pieces can be stacked side-by-side for pick-up as long as the total pile does not exceed four feet high.

Copenhaver asked about a number of branches down on Main Street. 

“If they call, have met the ordinance requirements and have actually done the work themselves, yes, we will come pick it up,” Walker said. “But if a tree service has done it, then the tree service needs to dispose of it.”

In other business, Neal’s Scrap Metal was awarded the bid for demolishing seven more houses in the city’s blight elimination program. The local firm was the lowest of three bidders, submitting a price of $49,900.The board approved a payment of $500 to Josh Sroufe of Woodlawn Drive for replacing a sidewalk. As many as six people have taken advantage of the city sidewalk program this year.

Money is set aside each year from riverboat revenues that makes a sidewalk replacement reimbursement program possible.

Interested residents are encouraged to visit the mayor’s office, located on the second floor of the municipal building at 227 N. Main St., to pick up an application and fill it out. Once the application is completed and returned, the city provides the interested resident with a list of licensed and insured contractors they can choose from to perform the work.

The contractor selected visits the home and performs the work for the homeowner. The homeowner then pays the contractor directly. The city asks the homeowner to save all receipts involved and bring them back to the mayor’s office once the job is done. Director of Public Works Dave Barker and Building Inspector Kenny Melton then visit the home and do a final inspection on the work to make sure it meets specifications.

Once the receipts are brought to the mayor’s office, York’s administrative assistant does the paperwork involved with having the New Castle Board of Works approve reimbursement to the homeowner up to $500.

Also at Monday’s meeting the board approved 2019 contracts for the emergency medical service workers and city workers who are part of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Union. Copenhaver recommended the contracts for approval, saying there was “very little change” from last year.

Contracts with city police were also amended to show a longevity pay increase from $28 to $30 per month.

The board heard a reminder from City Administrative Assistant Kendra Kennedy that the Chamber of Commerce Downtown Christmas Walk is Thursday from 5:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. and learned spots for New Castle Transit’s Christmas Light Tour are almost gone. Transit Manager Doug Sloan said the first night for the event – Monday, Dec. 17 – is full. Seats for Tuesday, Dec. 18, are going fast. Anyone interested should call the transit office at 765-529-8113.